by Steve Dalachinsky
suffering from jazzheimer’s i find it increasingly more difficult to cite my first encounters with certain folks, music etc. but to the best of my knowledge the first time i saw/met/heard Jayne Cortez was at the poetry project when she did a reading with my good friend Ted Joans (now also gone). her visceral, bold in-your-face approach totally floored me though much of her work at the time put me off due to the rawness of its images, what i later referred to as externalizing the internal as in real BLOOD and GUTS, something i had only heard Cecil Taylor do but in an entirely different manner.
after getting to know Jayne better and finding out she was Ornette Coleman’s wife early on and the mother of Denardo, a drummer who had played on such Ornette LPs as The Empty Foxhole (Blue Note) and Ornette at 12 (Impulse) when Denardo was actually 12 and who plays still with Ornette, we’d talk more and more particularly about one of her favorite subjects — JAZZ. we’d meet often at gigs and hang out a bit. she was at this point and had been since 1974, married to Melvin Edwards — the wonderful, soft spoken, huge presence of a man and one of my favorite sculptors. They had met in the late ’60 or early ‘70 in southern california & were both part of important black arts movements that grew partially out of the infamous Watts riots. an early collaboration was Jayne’s book of poems from 1971, Festivals and Funerals, for which Mel did the illustrations. they remained artistic collaborators for the rest of her life.
Jayne started a band called the Firespitters, and she’d give me CDs whenever she had new ones. she read fiercely and the band, in which Denardo also appeared, played heavily behind her. her poems ranged from social protest to feminism to jazz, and one of the first i heard by her that solidified my admiration for her work was a poem about the great conga player Chano Pozo. she never ceased to amaze me. her work was timely and timeless. if the boys in Washington lied about the Debt Ceiling, there’d be a poem about the edge of the cliff at her next reading.
we were fortunate to meet several times in paris as well and for my wife Yuko, Mel, Jayne and me, Ted Joans and jazz were 2 of the constants that kept our relationship fresh.
Jayne and Mel moved to their home away from home, Senegal, where they lived a good part of the year. up until they moved to an NYU complex a few blocks from where i live, they had lived around the corner from me — i, on spring street, they on 6th ave. — where ironically we shared the same numerical address.
in recent years Jayne, Yuko and myself would sometimes have lunch or dinner. Mel would join when he could. i had turned them on to a Dominican rice and beans joint i really loved on the lower east side and turned Jayne on to a dish i particularly enjoyed, squid and black rice. after she passed away Mel called to relay the news and informed me that while in the hospital where she abhorred the food she would ask him to go to that restaurant and take food out for her. this both heartens and saddens me.
Jayne was a force for good on the poetry, music and life scene that will sorely be missed and impossible to replace.
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Steve Dalachinsky was born in 1946, Brooklyn, New York right after the last big war and has managed to survive lots of little wars. His book The Final Nite & Other Poem: Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook, 1987-2006 (Ugly Duckling Presse) won the 2007 Josephine Miles PEN National Book Award. His most recent books are Logos and Language, a collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp(RogueArt Press); and Reaching into the Unknown, a collaborative project with French photographer Jacques Bisceglia (RogueArt). His chapbooks include Musicology (Editions Pioche), Trial and Error in Paris (Loudmouth Collective), Lautreamont’s Laments (Furniture Press), Dream Book (Avantcular Press), Christ Amongst the Fishes (Oilcan Press), Invasion of the Animal People (Propaganda Press), The Mantis: collected poems for Cecil Taylor 1966-2009 (Iniquity Press), Trustfund Babies (Unlikely Stories Press), and The Veiled Doorway & St. Lucie (Unarmed Press). His work has appeared in publications such as Big Bridge, Milk, Tribes, Unlikely Stories, Ratapallax, Evergreen Review, Long Shot, Alpha Beat Soup, Xtant, Blue Beat Jacket, and The Brooklyn Review, and is included in anthologies such as Beat Indeed and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He has written liner notes for the CDs of artists such as Anthony Braxton, Charles Gayle, James “Blood” Ulmer, Rashied Ali, Roy Campbell, Matthew Shipp and Roscoe Mitchell. His CDs include Incomplete Directions (Knitting Factory Records), a collection of his poetry read in collaboration with various musicians; and Phenomena of Interference, a collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp (Hopscotch Records).
I used to be more monogamous in my reading, but I’m afraid I’m rather polyamorous now…I usually have a main read going with three or more sidelines. Right now I’m reading and enjoying two books, both nonfiction: David K. Randall’s Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep and Philip Nel’s Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature. Dreamland is a fascinating look at sleep and dreaming (two of my favorite activities). Randall shows us how neglected the study of sleep is as well as how important it is to our health and high-functioning. Two chapters cover dreaming (I’d have loved more) while others show how lack of sleep has affected the army, athletes, and how, prior to the Industrial Age, we used to have what was called a First Sleep and Second Sleep… Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon) and Ruth Krauss (A Hole is to Dig) are two of my favorite childhood authors and Nel’s biography covers both of their lives and careers (I had no idea they were a couple!). I’m also reading The War Works Hard by Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail (the title poem is devastating), and I just finished The Parasites, by the underappreciated Daphne Du Maurier. A wonderful exploration of siblings and artists’ lives, The Parasites is incredibly inventive, multi-layered, at turns beautiful, poignant, and sharply funny. Du Maurier skillfully handles multiple points of view and weaves past and present seamlessly in this 1949 novel.
by Larissa Shmailo
In a world threatened by climate change, teetering economies, and war, the landscape of experimental poetry (or poetries) in the 21th century is responding with its traditonal stance of épater/engager by any-and-every means possible le bourgeois, and challenging every lexical and hyperlexical convention. But is it a contracting or expanding universe, and is it the same universe as ours, or a parallel one, or one that does not even glance at our own? What does experimental poetry seek, if it seeks at all, today?
Today, Poetry magazine has opened its doors to poets who may not have found a home there previously, publishing the likes of Charles Bernstein, Forrest Gander, and Rae Armantrout. But is experimental poetry a luxury enterprise, to be coopted by the mainstream? Or is it to be supplanted by the spoken word heritors to the folk and protest song? Or is it the very heart of an art which can provide a new thinking we can bring to our problems and perceptions?
In the 21st century, overlapping sites of activity in experimental poetry have emerged: Charles Bernstein delineates some of the movements: “Multilectical, site-specific/fieldwork; conceptual/flarf; ecopoetics; constraint-based (constructivist) work, ESL (writing in English by those from non-English regions, via web-intensified global affinity clusters); poetry in programmable media; and sound/performance in/as recording (especially the use of digital sound archives such as PennSound and UbuWeb). Newly emerging in the broad area of “bent poetics” are disability and the defamiliar body, identity formations as textual medium, nude formalism, “junk space,” ambiance, sprung lyric, mixed/syncretic poetic genre, modular prose, and ongoing collaborations with music and the visual arts. “
Sharon Mesmer states: “The most important trends/contributions are probably aligned to the Language-based multiplicities, where the reader was as much of a participant in the poem as the poet, and the strategy-based borrowings, where a foundation was laid that allowed the poet to relinquish hierarchical control, being inflected by humor and the slight return to narrative.”
The late Carol Novack, the publisher of Madhatter’s Review commented, “The landscapes I find most intriguing are populated by poetic writers playing with ‘theatrical play/dialogue,’ ‘narrative,’ digital technological forms, interweaving, connecting, and contrasting text (read or recited)with music and visual art , words unloosened from fetters to formulaic versions of poetic paradigms, writers stretching their wings in collaboration with artists of other genres, or attempting various genres within the same project.”
And what does all this mean to experimental poetry’s writers / readers / audience / victims / perpetrators / partners?
Bernstein speaks to the need for poetry’s constant motion, like a shark per Woody Allen’s definition of a growing love relationship in Annie Hall. Poetry, says Bernstein, is “always moving beyond the ‘experimental’ to the untried, necessary, newly forming, provisional, inventive. Innovation is not so much something you can map as that which resists those maps.” Bernstein often states: “Poetry is a fertilizer, not a tool,” a groundbase for “moving beyond experiment to textual action.”
Geoffrey Gatza, editor of the experimental press BlazeVox Books, comments on the umbrella of writing that is experimental, or what Ron Silliman would term “post-avant,” saying, “There is no grouping or school of poets working towards a goal in experimental writing… Each writer is… reluctant to be a part of one group working towards one idea.” Gatza, whose press includes an eclectic mix of today’s experimental voices, adds, that as always, “The experimental is open to its successes and it is open to glorious failures in the most exciting of ways, ways that traditional poetry can only sound like a beginning violinist attacking a violin.”
Editor Jeff Hansen, formerly of the web-based Experimental Poetry and Fiction, and now the online journal and blog Altered Scale, speaks about computer poetry and Issue 1, the Dada-esque sendoff of poetic vanities and one of the best examples of search engine optimization techniques of 2008. In it, Jim Carpenter’s poetry algorithm, Erica T. Carter (ETC), wrote and published an anthology of “new work” by 4,000-plus leading poets. Says Hansen: “Issue 1 is a wonderful work (and) it’s provenance as poetry is not in dispute. Loss Glazier would say if Language is code, then Code should be treated as language… It is all very exciting, the anger, the congratulations, and the other forms this discussion has taken. And no matter the outcome, it gets poets talking who may not have reason to talk before.”
Mesmer notes that today, using the Internet, communities of writers can now function as “temporary autonomous zones.” (TAZ is a term coined by Peter Lamborn Wilson/Hakim Bey in his book of the same name, meaning “temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control”). Mesmer says: “We think of writing communities (the Beats, the New York School Poets, Black Mountain – you name ‘em) as groups of poets who hung out together physically in bars, bookstores, cafes, all-night diners, etc… But now, as the flarf collective has proven, they can exist in cyber-space as well, where poets communicate and collaborate as they do in temporal- space. This, of course, both adds and subtracts a dimension from the experimental toolbox.”
The Flarf movement, less a school or a set of poets, and more of a method with an end game in sight, includes Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon, Kasey Mohammad, Rodney Konekee, Michael Magee, and Mesmer. Mesmer explains that the Flarf collective “has used the opportunities afforded by technology to continue Language’s non-hierarchical narrator impulse by using debased Internet language to create poems and thus accomplish two things via technology: taking on narrators that even we ourselves might not embrace, thus truly eluding the formal control structures of our own personal choices.”
Speaking to the use of technology in experimental poetry, Bernstein notes that “the several-thousand-years-old alphabet remains our fundamental technology, with the printing press creating a seismic change some 500 years ago. In the last 150 years we are living in the age of electronic/digital reproduction (tape recorders, radio, typewriters, computers, the internet), which changes the function of poetry in and for the culture, and so everything about poetry.” However: “This is not a choice an individual poet makes but a condition we all are in. And much of the most interesting poetry of the past 150 years, and the past year, reveals the technological unconscious of our time and space.” With Star Trek’s Borg, Bernstein warns that, to these movements, “Resistance is futile.”
Novack added, “I see the looming present future as a melting pot of voices disrobed of the tired necessity of typecasting and classification. I embrace multimedia events and online journals that promote authors who play with amazing evolving technology as if it were clay, who utilize the new communicative forms the Internet offers.”
Daniel Nester of Soft Skull Press takes issue with Bernstein’s discussions of “official verse culture” and Ron Silliman’s “grabbing people’s eyeballs” with the notion of post-avant and the School of Quietude. “These poets and others aren’t the first to make their mark by setting up other perceived aesthetics as straw man counterarguments. But that doesn’t mean it advances the art of poetry in any way.” Nester reiterates Wallace Stevens’ statement that “all poetry is experimental…if it is lively, if it is doing its job; poetry presents new coinages, mindsets, shorthands, portmanteaus, neologisms… Twitter poets are the new haiku. Can you say what you want to say in 140 characters or fewer? There’s your new variable foot!”
It has often been noted that experimental poetry speaks to change and uncertainty, also a current in Modernism. Which, as Sharon Mesmer points out, begs the question: Has nothing really changed since Modernism? Mesmer continues: “And if Modernism reflected/spoke to uncertainly, instability, fracturedness, and we’re now supposed to be getting past all that (if only because “been there, done that”) — what comes next? Certainty, cohesiveness, stasis? I don’t think so, since the basic state of humanity is not those things. But I do think there is a general impetus to heal, remake and renew right now, and so it’ll be interesting to see how poetry will roll with those ideas.”
Mesmer concludes, “The 21st century landscape seems to be a post-everything territory, fertile with possibility.” She concludes: “Whatever that New Thing’s going to be we can’t really know at this point, but it’s safe to say it will carry the indelible stamp of whatever came before but with a mind to completely redefining it (which has always been poetry’s way anyway).
Note: these interviews were conducted in 2009, and the opinions of the interviewees may well have morphed, as experimental poetry does each day, month, and year. However, this archeology of contemporary seekings in word, sight, sound, material, time, and space still has descriptive value, and is submitted in that spirit. It is not meant to trample or ignore any seedlings of the past four years.
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Larissa Shmailo is a poet and translator whose latest poetry collection is In Paran (BlazeVOX) http://www.amazon.com/In-Paran-Larissa-Shmailo/dp/1935402102 and latest spoken word CD is Exorcism http://www.facebook.com/LarissaShmailoPoetryandProse/app_155326481208883
Thursday, January 24, 6:30pm
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
110-112 West 27th Street, Ste. 600
New York, NY 10001
Celebrate the launch of Drunken Boat Issue #16 in collaboration with Open City & the Asian American Writers’ Workshop!
Join the contributors and editors from Drunken Boat, one of the world’s oldest e-literary journals, as they celebrate the launch of their 16th issue with special folios on Art, Barry Hannah, Exploration, Fiction, Asian American Urbanisms, Sound Art/Dissonance, Speculative, and Trance Poetics.
Featuring a line-up of poets, video artists, Open City writers, fiction writers, and mixed media performers! The event will be MC’ed by Drunken Boat’s own Ravi Shankar.
Readers include Kristin Prevallet, Edwin Torres, Elena River, Marco Maisto, Caroline DeVane, Nora Maynard, Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, Sahar Muradi, Zohra Saed, Celina Su, Peggy Lee, Wah-Ming Chang, and a special collaborative performance by award winning American poet specializing in cross-disciplinary ephemeral collaborations Terri Witek and her Brazilian collaborator, Cyriaco Lopes, whose most recent New York show “Crimes Against Love” won a Worldstudio AIGA and RTKL award and was featured on the front page of The Advocate.
Check out Issue #16 here:
by Jen Besemer
I talk a lot about my methods of making poems and images from source materials I collect and alter. But I don’t say much about what happens when I set out to write a poem. These days I tend not to make poetry without the aid of some kind of tangible source, but when I do, I’m often surprised that it comes out looking and sounding much the same as the sourced poems! What’s going on there? Is it something to do with the way my brain works? Does my mind just naturally…collage?
There’s nothing unusual in pulling one’s material from words and phrases that are “in the air”–where does absorption end and appropriation begin? I believe that all poets do this to varying degrees, and that work coming from “inside” or from “personal experience” is actually–or is also–a result of an extended collage process. The difference is in the degree of emphasis on that process, and in the degree to which the product preserves the traces of that process. Plenty of poets who work from collage-mind disguise its most obvious residues. I’m not one of those. I like to cast my collage-mind in high relief, and I like my finished work to retain that glorious bumpiness.
To a large degree my poetic process is curatorial. With use of source texts, the arrangement of letters, words/phonemes and phrases and the synthesis of a new poem both take place outside of me–the thinking is mine and internal, but the action is external, and my ability to influence meaning (or, more accurately, the audience’s experience) is lesser. For collage-mind written poetry, the processes of curation and synthesis of a new whole take place within me, and–perhaps because I do not have the intermediary of a source text–feel more directly accountable to the audience. I don’t mean that I’m any more concerned with accessibility or legibility in this work than in the sourced work. I mean that text-only poems operate on fewer dimensions than purely visual or hybrid text/image (etc.) poems. My conscious involvement in the audience’s experience is more direct in text-only written poems because there are fewer variables at work in that experience.
My unsourced poems often take the forms of different types of “functional” or informative text. The mimicry of this type of text, and the appropriation of its formal characteristics for other (poetic) purposes, are parts of a deliberately subversive process. I mean to expose the artificial nature of such text. Functional/informative text is privileged in our current social moment, and it is the subject of relatively little cultural critique or analysis. My mimic-poems pretend to occupy the same authoritarian language territory as the model texts. Currently, most of my mimics sit in sites of academic authority–word problems, bibliographic citations, captions. But I increasingly appropriate (or seem to appropriate) language of capitalist authority within the academic forms. For instance, I may employ the cadence and rhetoric of ad copy in a citation poem. This type of blended mimicry points to the extreme saturation of academic authoritarian language by the language of capitalist authority–through the priorities, paradigms and purposes inherent in such language.
Opening the mimic poem process up to collage-mind allows me to more fully destabilize those standardized forms. This is my version of the concern for “accessibility” in poetry; I deliberately craft texts that push audiences out of their bodies of knowledge. Audiences encountering a word problem poem bring to the encounter a wealth of previous experience with genuine word problems, both positive and negative (or indifferent). The training they may have received in approaching such texts may kick in, determining their expectations of the piece. Such expectations are soon shattered by what they find (the probability of encountering velociraptors while dumpster diving; philosophical and social considerations of tea consumption and carbon monoxide poisoning in the Russian rail system; wasp-infested canoes). By tweaking the expectations we share–our consensually-constructed sociocultural limitations–I hope to encourage myself and my audience to ask why we set these limits in the first place–and how they work, if they work at all.
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Jen Besemer is the author of several attractive and fuel-efficient volumes of poetry, ranging from compact to full-sized, including Quiet Vertical Movements, Ten Word Problems, Telephone and Object with Man’s Face (both forthcoming late 2013). Jen’s recombinant poetry projects are also represented in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. For more information, visit www.jenbesemer.com.