I love Google Reader. It’s Google (and Blogger) integration make it very easy to locate a lot of interesting blogs that I was never aware of, and the folders are great for keeping things organized.

I’ve decided that I need to get update on “the scene” of poet blogs out there. I’m feeling really out of the loop, like Rip Van Winkle out of the loop almost. So I’m working on subscribing to the blogs of some poets I like. I’ve followed some of their blogs before, but others I’ve only just seen or heard about from some friends.

If you have any suggestions for other poet blogs I might read, let me know.


Google Reader generated a public page with updating posts from all of these pages. Here it is.

Personal Update

It’s been a busy summer, but I was shocked to see just how much time has gone by since I had heard of Leslie Scalapino’s death. My posting schedule was definitely effected by a personal medical problem that I’m still dealing with: a herniated disc in the lower lumbar region of my back. I wasn’t really able sit down, at a computer or anywhere else, for very long until recently. Things are definitely on the mend now, but it will be months still until I am reasonably “back to normal.”

I’ve been writing like mad this past year, aided by unemployment, I suppose, lots of free time. Most of my work has gone up at Gnoetry Daily under my handle (or gamer name, or trickster name) eRoGK7. [Note: Some poems are currently private, but will return to the site soon.] I was surprised that I had written what amounts to two books and a chapbook of (potentially) publishable work, plus one long project that simply went nowhere.

The Writing Project

I can only describe it loosely as a project right now. I have pages and pages of notes and some aborted attempts to start a “poem,” or whatever it will turn out as. The working title is “Love in the Time of Humanitarian Aid,” which I think captures nicely a theme which I now see has run through my work for a while: namely, how is our sense of concern and love for others (call it empathy or compassion) shaped by the national and international institutions that carry out humanitarian aid? My real obsession with this issue came after the recent earthquake in Haiti and the coverage of that, how it fell into all of the standard colonial attitudes and “white man’s burden” traps that are typical of Western coverage of foreign disasters of all kinds. That, together with the beuarocratic games being played with the initial flow of aid into the country and its distribution, reminded me too much of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, and I was (and am) still upset by that travesty, especially after absorbing Spike Lee’s excellent documentary on it.

Having thought about this project for half of the year now, I’ve been drawn towards two root issues that seem fundamental to an understanding of humanitarianism in our global capitalist world: First, that many many people, significantly many other Americans I’ve known, have difficulty recognizing — or easily forget — the common humanity people share beyond the social, historical, religious and cultural differences between nations. By this I mean only that although people everywhere must struggle against different circumstances and conditions, we do all share in the complexity of the human condition and often desire very similar outcomes in life, be that prosperity, peace, or relief from the constant struggle to survive.

I think the author Chimamanda Adichie has done a much better job at explaining this problem. Her talk “The danger of a single story” examines this issue from a properly post-colonial context, explaining how people in the West, influenced by literature from colonial times to the present multimedia landscape, often rely too much on “single story” narratives, such as the backwards tribal African or the Illegal Immigrant Mexican, to make up their understanding of the “other” peoples of the world.

The second root issue that I’ve fixated upon is that of Power, of those that operate regionally and internationally to ensure the exploitation of the mass of peoples around the world for the benefit of an increasingly concentrated few. This is at the expense of many in the First / Developed World as well as the Third / Un(der)developed (if we must still use such terms). It is the greed and genocidal neglicence of such powers and the institutions they rely upon which, often mingled with genuinely good intentions, end up poisoning the drive for global justice, equity and prosperity that might actually benefit the world.

How I want to approach writing a poem about this has been my problem. I don’t feel like computer programs which essentially carry out a highly flexible cut-up method on source texts are the right tools for this project. It’s not about reconfiguring language, or juxtaposing language from different fields/cultures, or even about playing with language in a game-like interface (my own sense of what my Gnoetry aesthetic is). Aside from my visual poetry, my writing for the last two years has been working almost exclusively in this mode, and I have by writing out of my inspiration/obsession with Jackson Mac Low.

Lately, though, I’ve turned increasingly to Gertrude Stein, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino as models for transitioning away from Gnoetry and other computational poetry methods. But this post is getting long enough. What I like most about these authors, beyond their work, is the way they think about and explain the reasons for their writings, the radical way they thought about what writing could do and what they could do through it. I’ll save an in-depth discussion of this for later.


Here, mostly for my own sake, is a list of some of the books, articles, websites and films that I’ve been researching for this project. Who knows what will come out of all this mess.

  • Shadows of War, Carolyn Nordstrom
  • Frontline: The Quake, PBS (March 30, 2010)
  • Easy money: the great aid scam, Linda Polman, The Sunday Times (April 25, 2010)
  • The danger of a single story: Chimamanda Adichie on TED.com
  • Aid Watch | just asking that aid benefit the poor
  • Good Intentions Are Not Enough
  • The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
  • The Memory of Fire Trilogy, Eduardo Galeano
  • Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, William T. Vollmann
  • The Making of Americans | Writings 1932-1946 (Vol. 2) | Gertrude Stein: selections (Poets for the Millenium) | by Gertrude Stein
  • Way | The Front Matter, Dead Souls | New Time | The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence | Zither & Autobiography | It’s go in quiet illumined grass land | by Leslie Scalapino
  • The Language of Inquiry, Lyn Hejinian [Contains the long poem “Happily”]
  • Mulamadhyamakakarika, or The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (trans. Jay L. Garfield) | Shunyatasaptatikarikanama, or Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness | The Raja Parikatha Ratnavali, or A Strand of Dharma Jewels | by Arya Nagarjuna
  • The Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse
  • The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva
  • Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Jacquelynn Baas and Mary Jane Jacob, Eds.
  • Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek
  • Violence | First as Tragedy, Then as Farce | In Defense of Lost Causes | by Slavoj Zizek
  • “Use and Abuse of Human Rights,” Gyatri Spivak
  • Pathologies of Power: Rethinking Health and Human Rights, Paul Farmer
  • Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag
  • “‘‘The Most We Can Hope For . . .’: Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism,” Wendy Brown
  • Inhuman Condition: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights, by Pheng Cheah

No, it isn’t Talk Like a Pirate Day (Wait, is it? Did I miss it again?). More like Read Like a Pirate Day, I suppose. If you’d like to read a lot more theory (literary, philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, etc.) and share some with others, go to AAAARG.org and register. It’s free. Amazing resource. Enuf sed.

Power to the PDF!

It’s Shampoo: a poetry magazine. I was looking for a listing of K. Silem Mohammad’s books, and I found two poems of his from Shampoo 14, October 2002. Honestly, I came to blog right after I found the mag, so don’t blame me if you don’t like it. I haven’t formed an opinion yet. It’s been going for a good while now, web-wise.

abrahamlincoln1.jpgOn a related note, I’ve made it most of the way through the delightful and often bawdy content of Abraham Lincoln #1, edited by K. Silem Mohammad and Anne Boyer. It describes itself as “42 JUICY PAGES of poetry printed on the cheapest paper available and clumsily stapled for your reading pleasure,” an assessment I fully agree with. The first issue appears to be sold out now, but I highly recommend getting future issues. A subscription’s cheap, and it’s a great read, if you like that kind of thing (and I do).

Oh, it was wonderful. Here I am sick, weak with flu, reading through some of the recently purchased books that I have not had time to get to. I really am a crazy person who does not know when to stop and rest. I am reading books that I might teach from next semester. About writing. About politics. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians or DeLillo’s Mao II may be on the reading list for my composition students, as well as Unspeak and Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death. As usual, I feel genuinely excited to be moving to a new syllabus.

helene_cixous.jpgWhat has motivated me at last to post here again, though, is a book that I have started reading for possible use in the Intro to Creative Writing class that I will be teaching in the Spring: Hélène Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, a translation of lectures delivered at the University of California, Irvine in May of 1990. I have not been so moved by a piece of writing for what seems like a long time now, perhaps since I read Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or Waiting for the Barbarians two Springs ago. (Both of which deal with torture and exile; I wonder if this is important.) I have been considering the importance of theory and philosophy to the practice of writing. In a time of creative writing programs that too often focus single-mindedly on craft (an important and necessary subject, undoubtedly), I think it is important to take time and discover the great ideas that are out there, shaping (or perhaps simply elucidating, or a bit of both, possibly?) our understanding and experience of the contemporary world. I have started with Cixous, and I am very happy that I have chosen so. I have been looking for a particularly moving passage, but it is difficult. It is hard to take any passage out of Cixous’s sprawling, intricate, and mysterious contexts, without having it lose some of its power. But I will try my best.

Referencing a letter of Kafka’s to a friend she writes:

I too believe that we should only read those books that “wound” us and “stab” us, “wake us up with a blow on the head” or strike us like terrible events, that do and don’t do us good, a book “like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves,” or that is “like being banished into forests far from everyone,” or books that are “like a suicide.” Or, as he says at the end, a book “must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

That is what I believe but it also saddens me because very few books are axes, very few books hurt us, very few books break the frozen sea. Those books that do break the frozen sea and kill us are the books that give us joy. Why are such books so rare? Because those who write the books that hurt us also suffer, also undergo a sort of suicide, also get lost in forests–-and this is frightening. (17-18)

Now, as an aspiring writer and a concerned member of society, I am asking myself, what is the frozen sea of this culture? In this moment? What are the frozen seas of the world? Sure, a real frozen sea is melting, breaking up now due to the oblivious, careless hunger of civilizations; but there are other things frozen in us (in America particularly, this our world’s current empire): we freeze in the boredom that follows excessive, insistent productivity; in the loss of sensitivity to the events around us, in numbness towards the sufferings of other people(s); we are frozen in the sanctified act of consumption, in the weakness of reason over media/gov’t-induced fear, and the impotence brought through the extremities of action/reaction that seem the only acceptable responses to the world–one must be either for or against, a good party member or a member of the opposition, mainstream or avant-garde–-as if reality offered no other alternatives. As if discussion, no, rational thought, cannot exist beyond these imposed dualities. Where are the axes that will break through? Who will wield them? Who can learn to be so fearless? And how many times must s/he swing before it starts to crack?

But there is more to consider than this: to become fixated only in the external is to be blind to the other “half” of ones being (as if such things were quantifiable). As Cixous points out, and as the Buddhists point out too, the place that most needs the axe is inside of ourselves. So my questions now become, how can I be fearless? Where in my back should the axe best go?

I will close with Cixous’s words on “‘the truth,'” a term she uses so carefully, “to protect it from any form of fixation or conceptualization” (6). I hope that the passage below is complete enough an exerpt to be moving. As is standard with what else I have read of her, she does not try to make things seem easy; if what she thinks is needed is the impossible or the unspeakable, she will ask for that. For this, I believe she is truly fearless.

I will talk about truth again, without which (without the word truth, without the mystery truth) there would be no writing. It is what writing wants. But it “(the truth)” is totally down below and a long way off. And all the people I love and whom I have mentioned are beings who are bent on directing their writing toward this truth-over-there, with unbelievable labor; they are fighting against the elements and principally against the innumerable immediate exterior and interior enemies. The exterior is very powerful at the present time. We are living particles, fireflies in the world, and around us resounds an enormous concert of noise-and-rumor-producing machines, creating a din and rumors destined to ensure we don’t hear the voice of truth. But the interior enemies are just as numerous. It concerns our fear: this is what we are made of: our weakness. Kafka told us paradise is not lost. We are the ones who haven’t yet regained it, and if we haven’t regained it, it’s because we are suffering from two vices: laziness and impatience. As a result, we do nothing and don’t advance, we stop out of laziness, hurry from impatience. Between the two, the work of descending [toward truth] isn’t accomplished. Paradise is down below. (6)

sinus.jpgI’m down with another sinus infection (I believe that is 4 since last October now). On more meds and awaiting the results of a CT scan. So I’m pretty well stuck in the apartment, drinking lots of water, and reading/watching Ren & Stimpy DVDs.

[UPDATE: In August of 2007, it became clear that I had not been having this many sinus infections, but that my migraines had increased dramatically in frequency and had migrated down into my face from the top of my head. Migraine medicines complicated things for a while. Now (in March 2008) I’m off of caffeine (good!) and working in other ways to reduce stress and have fewer headaches.]

[UPDATE 2 (July 2008): For anybody else with migraine trouble reading this post, I wanted to write that cutting caffeine has continued to be good for me, and that a daily dose of 385-400 mg of Feverfew (an herbal supplement you can find at most stores that carry such things) has also helped to greatly reduce my migraines.  I’ve been taking it daily for three months now, and I have only had 3 migraines and a few minor headaches.  I would recommend anyone suffering from migraines to try it.  Keep in mind that you need to take it daily for two weeks before it takes effect, so be patient.]

After recommending the book What the Buddha Taught to Brian, I decided to borrow it from my brother again and re-read it. What a great book. Sadly, I hardly ever read any of the historic Buddha’s own teachings: I’m usually reading Tibetan texts and commentaries. The stories of his teachings to wanderers and laymen that are contained (in full) in the back of the book are a great bonus for Rahula’s own excellent expositions. Most Buddhist books in English seem very dated after 30 years or so, but this one is over fifty years old, and all of the language still seems well-chosen, direct and clear to follow.

I’ve also been reading some Frank O’Hara, a poet I had pretty much ignored up until now. I’m reading “Second Avenue” right now. Amazing!

My Life and The Homewood Books are still slowly getting finished. I’ll probably only finish Damballah by the time school begins, though.

Timmy Graham - Birth of a NationAnother update to my reading list.

I’ve moved on from Wonder Boys. The first 80 pages have been enjoyable, but I’ve lost interest. I see another Michael Chabon novel in my future though, probably The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, as I have not seen the movie adaptation that was never made of it six or seven times.

So, I’ve picked up John Edgar Wideman’s Homewood Books (Damballah, Hiding Place and Sent for You Yesterday) and read the title story out of the collection Damballah. That’s the only story of his that I’ve read before (in the only fiction workshop I’ve ever taken). If you’re an avid reader of the blog, you may remember my mention of the book in an earlier post. Wideman’s photograph is attached there too.

To get a sense of what this trilogy is, I’m going to include a few paragraph out of Wideman’s preface to the University of Pittsburgh hardcover edition of the trilogy (incidentally published years after it was published in several soft cover editions):

The three books offer a continuous investigation, from many angles, not so much of a physical location, Homewood, the actual African-American community in Pittsburgh where I was raised, but of a culture, a way of seeing and being seen. Homewood is an idea, a reflection of how its inhabitants act and think. The books, if successful, should mirror the characters’ inner lives, their sense of themselves as spiritual beings in a world where boundaries are not defined by racial stereotypes or socioeconomic statistics.

The value of black life in America is judged, as life generally in this country is judged, by external, material signs of success. Urban ghettoes are dangerous, broken-down, economically marginal pockets of real estate infected with drugs, poverty, violence, crime, and since black life is seen as rooted in the ghetto, black people are identified with the ugliness, danger, and deterioration surrounding them. This logic is simple-minded and devastating, its hold on the American imagination as old as slavery; in fact, it recycles the classic justification for slavery, blaming the cause and consequences of oppression on the oppressed. Instead of launching a preemptive strike at the flawed assumptions that perpetuate racist thinking, blacks and whites are doomed to battle endlessly with the symptoms of racism.

In these three books again bound as one I have set myself to the task of making concrete those invisible planes of existence that bear witness to the fact that black life, for all its material impoverishment, continues to thrive, to generate alternative styles, redemptive strategies, people who hope and cope. But more than attempting to prove a “humanity,” which should be self-evident anyway to those not blinded by racism, my goal is to celebrate and affirm. Where did I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? These unanswerable questions — the mysteries of identity and fate they address — are what I wish to investigate.

I’m looking forward to reading this book more than anything I’ve come across in a long while. And of all the books I’ve purchased in the last few years, this one may get read sooner than any.


So, I’m still reading My Life. As I’ve said before, it’s dense but well worth the effort. I just wanted to jabber about the title of one of the poems:

We have come
a long way from
what we actually

The comment that this makes on the writing act is easy for me to sympathize with; it may be the feeling this statement expresses that keeps me from writing much of the time–a sense of distance–it couldn’t be called detachment, really, because it is so emotionally resonant. It is more of a separation, an inability of mine to connect to what was meaningful in my experience, and often a difficulty in connecting to what is meaningful right now.

Of course, it is this distance from the immediacy of our emotions that makes poetry and literature in general a necessary thing. We need something, some work of art, to remind us of that immediacy of experience and sensation: to put it in a bluntly cliche fashion, it makes us feel alive and, more importantly aware of ourselves. In having written a poem, we must have come a long way from what we actually felt, because what we are writing is a new sensation, a new experience that is by definition a secondary experience, but one that does what it can to bring us back to whatever state we were trying to return to, or to take ourselves from one state (possibly a troubling one) to somewhere else that we imagine or have conceived as being better.

wboriginal.gifIn solidarity with Dave, and in hopes of choosing an enjoyable and easy read, I have picked up Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. Something to pick me up out of the emotional hole that Blood Meridian dug for me. Fifty pages in and I have to agree with Brian Beglin: the book is better than the movie. And all of the sappiness and romanticization of writing programs aside, the movie was damn good.

I guess its better for one reason: everything is written through Grady Tripp’s perspective. Tripp gets to drift in and out at will and he gets as many opportunities to fill in his history as he likes. And Michael Douglas’ outstanding performance of him was what makes me watch the movie again from time to time.

So, Chabon is good in my book so far.

As for the other books… My Life is still going good, though I’ve only be reading a poem every other day or so. Genesis has become exhausting, what with its hundreds of short entries. It has some great moments, though. Along with Howard Zinn, Eduardo Galeano remains a favorite historian / political writer.

There was a sentence in My Life that really hit me the other day. I’ve been meaning to blog about it, and now that Theresa has blogged about her desire to rediscover some of the more meaningful things of adolescence that have been pushed aside over the years, it’s come back to mind. I have to set it up with some of the surrounding sentences, to give you a sense of what the context created by the style of these poems is like:

The pair of stunted, ancient apricot trees yielded ancient, stunted apricots. What was the meaning hung from that depend. The sweet aftertaste of artichokes. The lobes of autobiography. Even a minor misadventure, a bumped fender or a newsstand without newspapers, can “ruin the entire day,” but a child cries and laughs without rift. The sky droops straight down. I lapse, hypnotized by the flux and reflux of the waves.(from “Like plump birds along the shore,” pp. 27-8)

There is a solidity, an inertia to mood that gets heavier and harder to shake off as an adult. In December last year, I was walking around campus. I had just become so used to my surroundings that I could ignore them almost completely and still get around fine. It occurred to me, though, that this “freedom,” I suppose you could call it, was not necessarily a good thing. It did allow me to withdraw into my thoughts, to not be distracted by concerns of location as I moved from one place I knew to another place I knew. My eyes and feet knew what to do without my mind needing to intervene. But then, just being absorbed in one’s thoughts is another form of distraction…

I’ve drifted off topic. Maybe. What I was getting at is that one can still look at those buildings and streets and trees and such that one has seen a hundred times or more and NOT be automatically inclined to be indifferent toward them. The first time you see something and the third time are different mostly because of expectations that have been learned, but we all know that expectations do not hold up all the time. Functional, yes, but hardly the foundation of any experiential understanding of reality.

So I look at the things around me every once in a while. They exist, as much as that can be said about anything. They have a continuity, whether it is a seemingly frozen continuity, like a building, or a continuity of action or habit, like a car, or a person, that you expect to keep doing certain things at specific places or types of place. When I have to wait for a bus, or I just have nothing to do, I like to watch this continuity, this inertia. I’m more aware of my presence in relation to the presences around me.

I always did like to watch things. Maybe that’s something I want to get back to from my adolescence. I hope any of this makes sense to anyone other than me. Maybe it doesn’t.

wideman.jpgHere’s a slight update on the reading list from the previous post. I have the time to get down to reading from my own library now that summer is kicking in.

I just finished Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It’s great, but depressing as hell. I had a similar albeit compressed reaction to Apocalypse Now!. Well worth the emotional anguish.

Now I’m reading Genesis, Part I of the Memory of Fire trilogy by Eduardo Galeano, a healthy mix of history, fiction and myth spanning the entire recorded history of the Americas. I also recommend his book Upside Down.

I’m still hacking my way through Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, too. Dense, beautiful prose poems from the 1980’s. I don’t know why, but they remind me of Mindy for some reason. I would recommend it.

Upcoming: John Edgar Wideman’s (photographed above) Homewood Books [Damballah, Hiding Place, and Sent for You Yesterday]. If you haven’t read anything by him, you really should. He came to the U of I five years ago and gave a reading that I don’t believe will ever be topped for me. Amazing, spellbinding prose.

And coming up, Overlord by Jorie Graham, Spring Comes to Chicago by Campbell McGrath, and possibly Russell Banks’ Continental Drift.