May 30, 2007


Went to MASS MoCA this weekend and was lucky enough to see one of Theo Jansen's Strandbeests, Animaris Percipiere, in "person." Jansen's sculptures are kinetic sculptures that he has designed using PVC pipes that employ the wind on the beach to move around in the manner of an "organic" being. He simulates the process of natural selection by nurturing, testing and discarding models which do not work. The Strandbeests have reached a level of sophistication where sensors tell them if they have strayed into the water or into the dry sand of the upper beach where they can't walk, and also if conditions are such that they have to drop anchor until a storm passes or more favorable wind conditions occur. Jansen is another one of these people who are challenging the notion of "Artificial Intelligence," with the concept that, if it acts like it is alive, then perhaps it is alive; sort of like the programmer of the A.L.I.C.E. program who controversially won some AI competitions because his program acted as though it could hold a conversation, based on generic linguistic prompts. The AI community eventually denounced him because the program did not conform to the standards set that determine what "cognition" is, despite the fact, that, to the participant, the program exhibited every characteristic of being "alive."

Jansen hopes to some day release his creations into the wild and allow them to live out their own autonomous lives--to the eye, creatures, despite the fact that they are inorganic. Looking at the Animaric Percipiere got me thinking about poetics, the idea of authorship and the agency we attribute to poems and the creators of poems. It struck me that Jansen's sculptures correspond to my idea of poetics in some pretty profound ways. What I wish to do with poems is to give the veneer of 'intent,' without actually imbuing them with any intent as such. The poem exhibits all of the trappings of life, yet it is inert. It can exist in the wild following the program of its own primitive existence, yet it is only a simulacra, not a living, breathing thing. Yet the difference between the poem and the author seems ultimately academic. I may be an organic being, but generally what I do is react to outside stimuli in a way that is somehow hardwired or preordained. The rituals of my consciousness are not so very different from the programed motions of the Strandbeests. The beauty of the sculptures lies both in their ability to function autonomously, and to the way that they are also avatars of Jansen's own consciousness.

What I want for my poems is to give the illusion of intent, of life, of quickness without instilling in them any actual 'intent' as regards the traditional understandings of cognition. They will make their small motions and protect themselves, as they have been fashioned; but their actual purpose or intent is as obscure as my own actual purpose or intent. If adequately fashioned, they will stumble their way into the world and persevere. Much in the same manner that I, myself, have. Ultimately their purpose is ambiguous, as is the purpose of the herd of Stranbeests lurching along the shore, to eventually dissolve into the sea or to wind up as skeletal debris.

Gazing at the lattice of the Strandbeest I wondered about the Romantic 'I,' and the sacred conventions of art that dictate that the creations of I should be merely shed skins, the scratchings and leavings of I and not entities unto themselves--that the poem I write is simply a trace of my own unmalleable consciousness. That my consciousness exists at all. Perhaps it is the poems that create the person and not vice versa. Most of the time I feel not altogether different from a Strandbeest, lurching around in my preordained ways, my eyes blank windows on the word--betraying every semblance of consciousness, but yet I am merely a process, as the poems themselves are processes. When the wind blows too strong I hammer my little stake into the sand and wait for more hospitable gusts and when the wind blows favorably I scrawl my poems, who, in turn will do the same. Someday you will find them on the beach, fanning their fragile wings and nailing their nails into the strand--perhaps even when I am a significantly less animate but perhaps no less sentient skeleton.

May 17, 2007

I need to update my links soon, to fix typos and to add new ones for folks who have come to my attention since I last updated. This is much for my own benefit than for anyone elses, since my links are used primarily by me to make the rounds through the blogs of others (though I often use my sitemeter for this, since it is more up-to-date than the links!)

May 14, 2007

A Primer of Small Things

I'll admit it; I favor mid-length to long poems over short ones. To my mind, longer pieces have a greater ability to build satisfying tensions and rhythms than do shorter pieces (excepting serial pieces composed of smaller individual numbered portions--which are more like long poems than a bunch of short poems). When I refer to shorter pieces, I am talking about the contemporary conception of short, which is very short. Once upon a time the sonnet was considered to be a short form in English-language poetry, but our interest in the 20th and 21st cetury in Asian forms like the haiku and renga has shrank our conception of shortness to very, very short. This proclivity can be irksome at times, because it is harder to write good short poems, I'd say, than most people think. And the short-short poem in English is an altogether different animal than an Asian form rendered in an actual Asian language, as much as we'd like to convince ourselves otherwise.

That said, the top few selections in my long-neglected "to-read" pile featured an interesting menagerie of short poems that really mine the potential of the form. The first of these, Aaron Lowinger's Open Night Poems from House Press is a nice collection of uber-personal vignettes in the form primarily of brief poems in the ballpark of 12 lines. Amongst these is an actual formal sonnet, and it is interesting to see Lowinger pay homage to these poems' lineage in a profound way. At their best, short poems offer a kind of youthful exuberance in their ability to address a wide array of subjects in a short time, and these poems with their dark-chocolate-no-saccharine earnestness hearkened back to my mid-20's when small emotions seemed epic and the amorous potential of the world was boundless. These poems are influenced heavily by the New York School as well, in their focus on autobiographical events and real-world names, but in a fashion that is less cloying than the work's progenitors--the New York School if it were not written by snotty New Yorkers (this spoken by a snotty New Yorker).

Next up was Frame #2 from Press4Press, a small square cerulean-colored anthology with work from Thomas A. Clark, Logan Ryan Smith, Jeffery Beam, Sally Ashton, Marjorie Manwaring, Aaron Tieger, Michael Schiavo, Amie Keddy, Whit Griffin and Jess Mynes. Some of these names are familiar to me, such as Aaron Tieger, who over the years has become a master of the short quotidian poem in which a surface banality tilts just out of focus enough to draw interest. Aaron's poems have always been most at home in the corners of one's eyes. I had not read Amie Keddy (one of the editors)'s work before, but the little poems here operate like pared-down fairy tales with their primal sparseness: "the man/ had a piece of wool / from such a lamb / and a jar of milk." Among these, Sally Ashton and Logan Ryan Smith's poems give one a little more legroom, and offer a wider palette of sonic pyrotechnics/

A short poem seems to have two routes to travel, that of hyper-specificity or towards aphoristic enigma, as in Tom Orange's A Day in Switzerland: A Book of Picabian Aphorisms from Susanna Gardner's w/e chaps project. Each of the aphorisms in the little book bears a timestamp and, as such, could be viewed as one long poem. However, the aphorisms are largely self-contained, and, like the paintings of their namesake, offer a poignant distortion of everyday life fueled by desire and melancholy. At times the poems assume a puffed-up oracular voice, "12:12 am Laughter is/ the sublime/ unreason to/ this comedy of life," and at others a naked urgency, "6:10 am I /admire /your /eyes /Will /you /help /me" These little poems seem to extend their frame of reference not by way of a focus on the small or specific, but rather the large and abstract, touch-not-cobble stones.

The poems in these little books definitely inspire me to take another look at short-form poems and give great insight into the future and potential of the genre which is evolving towards a uniquely American short poem, no longer derivative of forms from other languages or of the early Imagist approximations of same.

May 11, 2007

Hi My Name is Link 1

Hello Poetry Foundation people; while you are here, please pick up one of the fabulous chapbooks from my Press.

May 9, 2007


Shudders, loping--once
the net of swamp plants
shrugged off, engines
kick in. Open sky, it
remembers what it was
made to do--vanishes,
just like that, into
a single winking point.
Sue Storm white-
line ghost me
hovers out to greet you.


What they wanted was
the pliant wax tablet
with my face in it.
Clicking the hungry styli
to deface the impression.
Guess what? Now
the replicas have a little
extra skin.
After all this hugging
the wall, at last the center
of the room slides
into view. There's a seat
for you next to the projector.

Under the fake floor,
99 Furies tilt the ground
in time with my swaying.

May 8, 2007


Things should be getting back to "normal" around here, now that I am done with school-type stuff and approaching a lull in the teaching semester for a little while. Which means I have a little bit more time to do things like actually go to readings and to post here. The former I am really looking forward to, the latter I approach with some ambivalence. I haven't really been enjoying the blogosphere all that much lately--at the risk of joining the chorus of "it's not like it was back in the day"-sayers, I do have to admit that the landscape and climate are not much like they were back when I started this in 2003. Regardless, I don't see the need for any kind of self-immolation and subsequent resurrection or dramatic suspension of operations here. However, I am at a loss as to what, exactly, to do with this space these days apart from using it as a kind of egocentric bulletin-board.

Now that I am left to my own devices, I will have a chance to catch up on my babelesque "to-read" pile, so perhaps I will post my impressions (not reviews, mind you, impresions) here. The summer bounty of the Dusie chapbook exchange booty has begun to show up, ever-so-slightly mangled, in my mailbox (Dusie folks (or anyone else, for that matter)--please write "DO NOT BEND" on the envelope of anything you send to me. The troglodyte who delivers our mail has the habit of snapping Netflix disks and everything else in half to fit them in our tiny box), so I guess I can also document those here. And the occasional polemic, lest I start getting invited to parties again.