New poem online: “Exercise: Prospective Verse”

The EcoTheo Review has been kind enough to publish and share a humble poem of mine online, which can be read, here.

Despite our best efforts, a recording of the poem I made wasn’t posted along with the poem; therefore, I share that recording, here:

“Exercise: Prospective Verse”

Open Book sure likes David Bradford’s Dream of No One but Myself

Open Book shares a short interview with David Bradford about his “hotly anticipated debut poetry collection”, Dream of No One but Myself, “a work of stunning creativity and self awareness”.

Personally, I find such promotional copy a little embarrassing, as its hyperbole can’t help but unmask it as promotional copy, emptying it of any of the gravity that would anchor its persuasiveness.

That being said, Bradford’s book is provocative, both thematically (as a “lyric examination of his experience growing up in a racially [and linguistically!] diverse family”) and formally (with respect to the modes of composition deployed to develop and present that matter). Indeed, Bradford’s work would be afforded higher praise by a scrupulous reading of these dimensions, whose study would be a substantial appreciation (free from matters of mere preference—what I like or don’t) of Bradford’s unquestionably accomplished first book.

You can read the interview linked above, or another I conducted with him some time back, here. Of course, the best course of action is to click on the book’s cover, above, check out the sample of poems from the book, and buy a copy!

Grammar, linguistic and literary production, and related matters: a note for Kent Johnson

If there’s one thing that indefatigable gadfly of a poet Kent Johnson and I share it’s a stubborn, irritable tick of concern with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and poetics and their “post avant” wake (so wide now few poets or critics seem aware how much they operate within its horizon…).

Recently, his most recent online persona linked an article he had written for absent, “competence, linguistics, politics & post-avant matters”. Therein, he rightly takes to task Charles Bernstein et al. for their loosey-goosey way of discussing (and thinking about) language, grammar, ideology, and society. I can’t say I’m in full agreement with Johnson on all points, but the drift of his argument is surely in the right direction.

It was with no little delight I read in a recently acquired copy of Slavoj Žižek’s 2012 Less Than Nothing the following passage, which sums up pointedly and neatly the fundamental misunderstanding of language (the identification of linguistic or literary production with that of commodities) that underwrote, at least, the early days of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E:

The basic premise of discursive materialism was to conceive language itself as a mode of production, and to apply to it Marx’s logic of commodity fetishism. So, in the same way that, for Marx, the sphere of exchange also obliterates (renders invisible) its process of production, the linguistic exchange also obliterates the textual process that engenders meaning:  in a spontaneous fetishistic misperception, we experience the meaning of a word or act as something that is a direct property of the designated thing or process; that is, we overlook the complex field of discursive practices which produces this meaning. What one should focus on here is the fundamental ambiguity of this notion of linguistic fetishism:  is the idea that, in the good old modern way, we should distinguish between “objective” properties of things and our projections of meanings onto things, or are we dealing with the more radical linguistic version of transcendental constitution, for which the very idea of “objective reality” of “things existing out there, independently of our mind” is a “fetishistic illusion” which is blind to how our symbolic activity ontologically constitutes the very reality to which it “refers” or which it designates? Neither of these two options is correct—what one should drop is their underlying shared premise, the (crude, abstract-universal) homology between discursive “production” and material production. (7)

I am skeptical Žižek’s characteristically canny observation settles the question (one that extends back to the advent of philology (the science of language) and literature-as-such), but it is surely sharp enough to cut through much of the underbrush!

To praise, that’s the thing

A while back, I ventured a few words on James Dunnigan’s The Stained Glass Sequence. As chance would have it, another set of notes, appreciative of the chapbook’s virtues, has turned up, which can be read, here. The anonymous reviewer (who seems to hail from Ireland) shares my appreciation for the sequence’s reflexive dimension:

Stained glass itself is like a decoration hung on perception, one that refracts the light and shadow of the reality behind, transforming it into a more ornate version. Poet James Dunnigan leverages that quality as the foundational conceit for The Stained Glass Sequence, a chapbook plunged in reflection on another primordial creative force: language. But it’s not for the sake of an academic lesson so much as a means to show how poetry transfigures society into civilization.

High, and well-deserved, praise.

Readers whose interest has been piqued can follow up on The Stained Glass Sequence by getting a hold of Dunnigan’s markedly uncanny and no less accomplished follow-up, Wine and Fire (Cactus Press, 2020), whose launch can be viewed, here.

Now the only question is which acquisitions editor will be canny enough to grab the manuscript of Dunnigan’s first, full-length collection…

Five Minutes at Montreal’s Expozine 2021

Montreal’s Expozine and POP Montreal were kind enough to invite me and other Montreal poets to perform in support of our respective micro- and small presses. You can catch my brief contribution (until the end of October 2021, anyway) around the 35:00 mark, here.

The chapbook I’m reading from is As on a holiday. You can view the Zoom launch here and purchase a copy from the publisher, Cactus Press.

“Poetry is news…” &c.

Two decades back, in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks, when the United States and its allies were rattling their sabres mobilizing to invade Afghanistan, many were critical of such an ill-advised adventure, including myself. I cast around for a way to articulate this critical unease, happening, finally, on a column from The Globe and Mail (as described below) that provided the material and impetus to compose a work of verbal art (a “poem” or, in this case, more properly, a “text”) that answered my need.

As I wrote in way of preface at the time:

Saturday 22 September 2001 The Globe and Mail published an essay article by John Barber ‘Wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains’ (F4). Despite its critical stance toward the then impending invasion, the terms of its discourse were so pedestrian my frustrated and bored eye wandered across its six columns. The article read thus, against the grain, oracularly clear, and the experience of that reading what I want to communicate. The sense it made to me leaves its trace in minor editorialisations (where the text has been stepped on). This vision into the essence of our imagination of Afghanistan is as forbidding as the country itself: a land of glacierous and desert mountains and sandstorms and tire-melting heat that swallows whole armies. “Cut the word lines and the future leaks through.” Here, English speaks this vision: in dead or obscure words, new compounds and coinages. Syntactically, at root (or so Norman O. Brown told John Cage) the arrangement of Alexander’s soldiers in a phalanx (the Great, too, stopped in Afghanistan), the language has been demilitarized.

Some stanzas of the resulting poem, Seventh Column, were published in The Capilano Review, in an issue devoted to poetic responses to 9/11. The entire poem was issued in a very limited edition, hand-stitched chapbook, long since sold out. On the occasion of the withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan, the time seemed ripe to share the poem in its entirety, readable in the PDF, below.

Solace for staycationers

A lot of folks aren’t able to travel as has been their wont these days. One new acquaintance and partner had been planning a short tour of Germany and Italy last summer, a plan put off until at least next summer.

To help them suffer their enforced staycation, I offer this poem from Ladonian Magnitudes, “European Decadence in medias res” to remind them of what they are missing and offer some solace. A recording of the poem follows.

 

 

European Decadence in medias res

 

They’re cutting the gelato in Sirmione

with pure azure lakewater.

In Siena City Hall two old pigeons hunched

on the bitch-wolf’s back trickle lime down

to her teats suckled by the twins.

In the Old City they serve una vera grappa

senese I’ve always passed over at the S.A.Q..

In Otterndorf the Matjes Dutch sushi

raw herring is swimming in salmonella.

In Charles de Gaulle Theseus a clochard

begs our last cents. “If we miss our connection

I’ll strangle somebody!” I said when we finally

found our flight home and remembered I’d said it

arriving. Air France dejeneur croissant et eau de source.

 

For the Love of Dante redux

Every Easter Week I read through Dante’s Commedia.

Last year, to mark the occasion, I recorded a poem “The book I can’t read closed beside me…”. As Easter Week has come around again, and, since making that last recording, I’ve been fortunate enough to invest in a new microphone, I’ve re-recorded a cleaner, crisper, and hopefully more lively version.

You can read that original post and hear the new recording, here.

“Why scribble in lingo 3 peoples reads?” up at “Poetry Pause”

The League of Canadian Poets has kindly included this fourteen-line poem in its “Poetry Pause” series, which you can read, here.

Synchronicity-invoked Dangerous Supplement

By “meaningful coincidence,” the day I downloaded and taught myself the software I needed to make the raw Zoom footage of the launch for my latest chapbook at least a little more presentable, a Canadian poet-critic shared he’d just published an essay on “‘counterfactual’ poetry anthologies, ” a topic essayed by one of the poems from that chapbook‘s Toronto Suite: “Literary Life in the Capital””

“Literary Life in the Capital” from Toronto Suite