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I’ve written a lot of poems that don’t work. I’ve written others that inexcusably suck and others that make me cringe when I see them online now, years after they’re published. But recently I one-upped myself and published a poem that totally failed.

 

It started like this: late one night, toward the end of July 2012, I was sitting in bed with a new notebook, Ariel Pink’s “For Kate I Wait” on repeat. Spacing out through the layered voices of the song (which has 207 plays in my laptop’s iTunes, 199 on my iPod), I listened to the ways these voices intermixed with the voices coming in from Maria Hernandez Park across the street. Feeling myself loosen, or maybe it was a trance, I started listing all the names of people who were present in my life in some way, at least in that specific moment: I thought of close friends, of not-so-close friends, of other poets, celebrities, family members, enemies—though I never, at least not until after publishing the poem, thought of myself as having any enemies.

 

I had no specific intent with the poem. I just wanted to follow my mind’s temporal movement, an intuitive gathering of presences.

 

At this point I had already written “Of Being Numerous”. Not THE “Of Being Numerous”, of course—George Oppen’s most famous and ambitious poem, his central ethical and aesthetic statement, a poem that captured some New York essence of the late 1960s. My “Of Being Numerous” came at the end of a decade-long obsession with Oppen. It also came at a weird moment in my life—I was going through a messy breakup and I was sick with mono, living alone for the first time in 6 years. People became more important to me than ever. Friends, poets, artists, strangers, people whose lives impacted me in some way—these were my Numerous, and I included them in “Of Being Numerous” via their names. The poem is fixated on the presence of proper names, and the brand names that populated my environment. Thom Donovan called it a poem with hashtags. I liked that description. Viz. this excerpt:

 

Christopher Smart lament with me

in piles across my room

our days Brandon Shimoda

Kellog’s Froot Loops

Kellog’s Apple Jacks

Kellog’s Corn Flakes

Kellog’s I don’t want to be depressed

Herman Ebbinghaus only wrote about death

Baudelaire only wrote about Brenda Iijima

Nerval Thom Donovan

Cori Copp has an iPhone

Daniel Johnston stay alive

David Abel Bruce Boone Osip Mandelstam

there’s only one bird below each name

Ben Kopel Nick Deboer

A.R. Ammons Coca-Cola

Nestle Pure Life Apple

James Castle is another room

somewhere deep inside this absence of birds

Jeremy Smania Maryrose Larkin

Joseph Beuys I hear everything

 

As you’ll see below, my new poem wasn’t breaking brand new ground, semantically at least. When I first read it to Jamie he said it was like “Of Being Numerous” through a laser beam—where “Of Being Numerous” meandered, the new poem focused forward. It was essentially a list with a few diversions—hashtags without much poem. One thing was new about my poem, though: the manner in which I wrote the first draft. Using only the recto pages in the notebook, I wrote in a huge scrawled hand, filling the entire page with letters, no punctuation. If a word didn’t fit into a horizontal line across the page, I started a new line mid-word. It was a simple physical rule, arrived at intuitively, and it freed something in me. Here’s a transcription of the opening lines:

 

Trina Josh Jamie Matt

Cori Paul John Craun John C

olleti Ariel Pink Jordan Matt

Henriksen Rachel Rachel

I don’t remember your last n

ame Shannon Chris Rainey

Chris Kraus Chris Farley

I feel like shouting Ngoc

Judah Jeff Geoff Chana Nick

Marissa Stacy Szymaszek

Thom Dottie Christian I am th

inking about you in Berlin

Uljana nice smile German

smile Jose I miss you

Robert Wilson Dmitry Noah

Jason is a fucking loser

 

A couple years before I wrote the new poem I spent a day looking through Paul Thek’s notebooks with Thom. It was transformative. Thek has become well known recently via reconstructions of some of his installation work of the 1970s and exhibitions of his newspaper paintings of the 1980s—bodies of work that often conjure the words “ephemerality” and “failure” due to his obsessive insistence that the works erode over time. But my favorite body of work of Thek’s is his notebooks, which were the product of a private practice, not intended for exhibition.

 

I loved seeing how Thek wrote in such a varied hand in those notebooks, scrawling over the page with different colored inks, copying out biblical passages, making lists of friends and enemies, lists of potential sources of money. Like me, he favored cheap marble-cover composition books. The notebooks Thom and I looked through weren’t quite as flashy as the ones exhibited in his recent retrospectives—the ones with intricately burnt pages, or with the belabored watercolors. The notebooks we looked through were mostly from the late 1970s, when Thek had returned to New York after living high and successful in Europe for almost a decade. Back in New York, Thek found most of his friends had turned cold, and the art world wasn’t showing much interest in him. Hence his preoccupation with listing friends, rating them, and listing potential funding sources—it was salvational for Thek.

 

 

Which is exactly how I felt about my new poem (as with all my recent poems that make heavy use of proper names). Somehow, listing all those names was going to save me. And not only was I writing my moment’s affinities, I was also in my huge sloppy handwriting writing my own Paul Thek anew, and I had been waiting for this moment since I first looked at Thek’s notebooks, or even longer. Shortly after looking through Thek’s notebooks I remember writing a note to myself about how I had been denying my own impulses by trying to write my neat little lyrics about Platonic birds and screen memories and George Oppen and whatever else. I had been denying my impulses by writing in such a neat little hand—I needed to write wider, wilder.*

 

You see, when I was 18 I thought I’d be an artist. I’d walk all over the town of Astoria, Oregon and pick up garbage, which I’d then paint. For a while, after I found a can of high gloss Pepto-Bismol pink house paint, I’d bundle up whatever trash I found and paint it pink. My masterpiece during my Pink Period was a sculpture made of broken shopping carts and toilets, hued Pepto-Bismol (I had nowhere to store it so I took it to my mom’s garage in nearby Warrenton and she threw it away). Around this time I met a gentle older painter and I tried to give him one of my Pepto-Bismol paintings. He told me the work will be valuable someday, and that I should hang onto it. I was flattered, though later I recognized he just didn’t want my pink garbage and I was not thinking like a true artist as he was: I was trying too hard to be nice.**

 

So when the moment had come that night in July, listening to “For Kate I Wait”, I felt ready. I was not interested in being nice, or in any sort of predetermined ethic. I was just following my mind’s movement and I wrote till I exhausted myself. The following days I continued the process and filled the notebook in a week. In fact, between July 2012 and September 2013 I filled up 22 notebooks.*** (Most years I fill 3 or 4.) So this felt like the beginning of an outpouring, a fruition of something a long time coming. That’s why I’m bothering to write about this at all: it’s troubling to feel like the first act of a new, more liberated process is a failed act.

 

In the next installments I’ll talk about the revision process, the response to the poem, and it’s afterlife. Thank you for reading!

 

-JOSEPH BRADSHAW

Joseph Bradshaw is a poet, educator, and archivist. He is the author of several chapbooks, as well as the full-length In the Common Dream of George Oppen (Shearsman Books). He curates a readings series at Berl’s Poetry Shop in Brooklyn called Leslie Flint Presents, and is at work on a book about the afterlife of the New York School.

 

*An easy way to make space around you on a crowded subway is to pull out a notebook and start writing in a huge scrawl.

 

** During my next period—let’s call it the Sharpie Period—I took a trip to Tucson, Arizona and collected all the full-page advertisements from stray newspapers I found downtown. Then I covered every surface in the room where I stayed with the newspapers, upon which I had written messages like SEE WHAT YOU GET and THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS.

 

***One morning, a couple months into my happy productive period, one of my students saw me flip through my notebook at the beginning of a modernist literature class I was teaching. I noticed she was stifling her laughter and I asked her what was funny. She said, “Um, your notebook is full of crazy man handwriting.” Sort of embarrassed, I splayed open the notebook and showed the whole class and said, “It’s OK to write like this in your notebook. A notebook’s a space for you to be crazy.” The students all looked at me nervously.

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Published Feb 25, 2014 - Comments Off

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AWP is in the air.

We’re looking forward to seeing you!

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Published Feb 24, 2014 - Comments Off

402085_10151115038279742_2049826092_n-150x150    O, MIAMI 2014 will return this April for a new round of events and projects. The goal: have all 2.6 million+ residents  of Miami-Dade County encounter poetry in some way during National Poetry Month.

Thanks to an endowment from the Knight Foundation, O, Miami 2011 and 2013 were action-packed and successful. And now O, Miami will be held annually.

The festival will take place in various locations throughout Miami-Dade–with some events at set venues and other projects located or moving throughout the city–and will include both established and emerging authors, choreographers, visual artists, musicians, and, of course, poets reading and writing poems in many languages (English, Spanish, Creole, etc). Past participants include poets Anne Carson, Kevin Young, US Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco, musicians Thurston Moore and Will Oldman, and many others.

www.omiami.org
Twitter @omiamifestival

 

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Published Feb 20, 2014 - Comments Off

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Drugs have long been part of the poet’s social repertoire:  the gaseous acid the Pythian oracle huffed to forecast the hexametric future, the bennies and junk of the hopped up/laid low beatniks, the proverbial drunken passengers on the drunken boat.  If the “poetic” is the linguistic occasion for signifiers to overflow their signifieds, drugs have long been the surfboard on which poets and other social freaks have hung ten.

Indigenous to Central and Southern Asia, cannabis has been a feature of the artist’s neuropathy for millennia.  Cannaboid seeds have been found in ashtrays next to Romanian mummies and Anatolian tombs.  The Sanskrit word ganjika is the red-eyed ancestor of modern Indo-Aryan ganja, a word seamlessly loaned to English.  Ancient Assyrians called weed qunubu (probably the etymological root of “cannabis”) and they not only loved to smoke it, they turned on the Scythians, Thracians and Dacians (the Hewey, Dewey, and Louie of ancient potheads.)

In American art, weed appears late, only in the 20th century.  And ever since Dylan first passed a j to the Beatles backstage, pot in art has been simultaneously a little mystical (the catalyst for angelic inspiration and spontaneous insights) and vaguely political (as if weed smoking emphasized one’s sense of social injustice).  Hardly ever was weed smoking in art intentionally risible.

But I guess that makes sense—after all, in the USAmerica, there exists a very mellow-harshing and quite unfunny juridical prohibition against weed, which in some states even now makes possession a felony.  Smoking weed could only be privileged as a mainstream recreational activity in the most insipid of terms.  I’m looking at you, Steve Miller’s The Joker.

While draconian jurisprudence continues to haunt determined tokers, there has also been a dramatic shift in pot’s cultural normalcy. When I was growing up, the only way one could sensibly connect the words “Super Bowl” and marijuana would be to imagine an enormously capacious pipe, stuffed to the brim with Garden of Eden kush.  This year, however, the teams in the Super Bowl hailed from Washington and Colorado states, the two states in the US to legalize weed by voter referendum.  The Weed Bowl, some called it, smirking or jealous.  In any event, the hysterical paranoia of Reefer Madness (1936) seems now legitimately ridiculous.

The first symptom of this transition might very well be the emergence of artworks which explicitly connected smoking weed and comedy.  The stoner comedy’s foundational film is Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke, which appeared in theaters in 1978.  The importance of Cheech and Chong to the future development of the genre cannot be overrated.  In fact, 7 of the 10 films released before 1993 which Wikipedia lists as “Stoner Films”  are Cheech and/or Chong productions.[1]

I was born in 1978, and thus in some sense my experience as a USAmerican subject maps onto the history of the contemporary stoner comedy.  The dearth of stoner films in the 1980’s is corroborated by the loud silence produced by Reagans’ shamefully racist and misguided “war on drugs,” the iconic commercials with their deadbeat dads and sizzling eggs scared me straight until I was old enough to know better.  Of course, the iconic drug of the 1980’s was cocaine, not weed.  But the force of the official war against recreational pleasure was ostensibly a powerful enough bloc to postpone the genre’s flourishing for over a decade.

The shift towards wide cultural acceptance began in earnest with the end of the first Iraq War and the presidency of Bush the First.  One now can be nostalgic about the 1992 presidential campaign, which saw Bush 1’s team attempt to lambast Clinton as a degenerate junkie for having experimented with pot.[2]  Bush 2 and Obama both publicly admitted to experimenting with cocaine—the occasional porch tokes on their resume didn’t even warrant refutation.

One of the major artworks of the Pax Clintonia  is of course Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic The Chronic.  As Joshua Clover has detailed in his book 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About, the years 1988-1991 saw drastic transitions in hip hop, as radical politics and racial consciousness gave way to self-directed rage and nihilism.  Dre, a key member of Compton’s N.W.A., had been one of the architects of that transition, which also saw the capital of rap music move from New York to Los Angeles.  When The Chronic dropped, the coup was complete.

 

dr-dre-the-chronic

 

Listening to The Chronic two decades later, and especially in light of the massive, collective paean to smoking weed that rappers have been engaged in since its release, what’s striking is that weed smoking is not remotely the main subject of the album.  Despite its cover, which replicates the Zig Zag rolling papers package with Dre’s face in the middle, most of The Chronic remains dedicated to the themes elaborated in mid to late NWA: gang violence, threats, and misogyny.[3]

Just as The Chronic, despite its misleading title and cover, initiated an entire genre in rap music, Dazed and Confused (1993, dir. Richard Linklater) reinvented the stoner comedy in American cinema.  And just like The Chronic, weed smoking plays a rather minor role in Dazed and Confused, especially considering the films it would influence.  One might instead read both film and LP as devotionals to 1970’s music, butt rock in the former and funk in the latter—but that is the subject of another blog post. Nonetheless, the kernel of many key elements of stoner comedies that I have seen can be found in Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused is a roman a clef about a group of students in quasi-rural Texas.  The film takes place over the course of 24 hours, the last day of Junior year for some of the characters, of middle school for others.  The approaching sunset of high school, of course, lies on the cusp of an all-important summer vacation.  The decisions they will make in this summer are existential.  They will not merely bring about a temporary set of immanent experiences but rather constitute the meaning of one’s entire teenage years.

One of the major questions these characters is face is whether or not to buy tickets to see Aerosmith.  There are several obstacles complicating this decision.  Some are external.  Authority figures, like the police and the football coach, constantly threaten to impinge on the scene, exerting juridical pressure to conform to the staid and sober letter of the law.  But others are imposed from within the group rather than without.  For one, these high schoolers in quasi-rural Texas are for the most part totally baked.  It turns out that making basic life decisions turns out to be much more difficult than one might predict.  Aerosmith rules, the audience thinks, what is there to deliberate?  Dazed is the record of their deliberative journey to, well, nowhere really.

This spring on Drunken Boat, I’ll discuss the stoner comedies that I have seen. These films, of course, emphasize and sublimate the role of weed in their plots.  But they also tend to incorporate some of the motifs developed in Dazed and Confused: their protagonists are trying to get from Point A to Point B.  The obstacles they encounter and imposed from without and from within.  In almost all cases, they set out to overcome these obstacles in pairs or groups, and they almost always have exclusively male protagonists.  In this way, they also resemble the Odyssey by Homer, that classic, paradigmatic tale of spiritual and physical journey of Odysseus and Telemachus, the Cheech and Chong of the ancient world.  Classicists sometimes make the nerdy joke that “Homer nodded” when a certain line doesn’t dazzle—but the question I want to ask Homer, and by extension all poets, is did he inhale?

-BRANDON BROWN

Brandon Brown is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Flowering Mall.  He writes about art and culture for Open Space, the magazine and blog of the SFMOMA and Bay Area journal Art Practical.  He is an editor at Krupskaya, and occasionally publishes small press materials under the imprint OMG!  In 2014, Big Lucks will publish a new book, Shadow Lanka.

 


[1] The other three, two Fritz the Cat films and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are only debatably contributions to the genre.

[2] Although let us not forget—let us never forget—that Clinton apparently did not inhale.  If that saved his bid for the presidency, it did not save him from the eternal halls of party fouldom.

[3] On the other hand, The Chronic marks the debut of Calvin Broadus, a/k/a Snoop Doggy Dogg, most recently Snoop Lion, probably America’s most beloved weed smoker.

 

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Published Feb 18, 2014 - Comments Off

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When we read and, in turn, think in a poetic vein, how do we begin framing our experiences differently? In “My Heart Laid Bare,” Charles Baudelaire urged other artists to “always be a poet, even in prose”.

Thinking about this poetic impulse at the heart of human expression, Drunken Boat will begin hosting a weekly series of guest blog posts aimed at exploring the intersection of art, media, and writing practice through the eyes of four contemporary cross-disciplinary writers.

Where are these points where practices overlap – where does writing admit in, assimilate, respond to, and/or reflect other forms of human (and perhaps non-human) expression? How, in a holistic sense, do these places of connection tell us more about our larger and often nebulous lives as self-reflexive beings?

Contributors to this discussion include Joseph Bradshaw, Brandon Brown, David James Miller, and Marissa Perel– poets who are also performance and visual artists, musicians, essayists, literary critics, teachers, publishers, and translators; in short, people who are deeply engaged in fostering diverse communities of thought.

-Jamie Townsend, DB Social Media Assistant Editor

Marissa Perel

Marissa Perel is a Brooklyn based artist and writer. Her working method is interdisciplinary and includes performance, installation, video, text, collaboration and curating. Her work has been widely shown in New York and abroad, and her criticism has been published on many on-line platforms. She originated the column, Gimme Shelter: Performance Now on the Art21 blog, and was an editor of Critical Correspondence, the on-line dance and performance journal of Movement Research. She has contributed to the Performance Club, Bomblog, Bad At Sports, and Tarpaulin Sky, among others. www.marissaperel.com

David James Miller

David James Miller is a poet, musician, and educator. He is the author of the chapbook Facts & Other Objects (JR Vansant), and his writing may also be found in Otoliths, elimae, Diagram, The Cultural Society, and elsewhere. He writes from New York City, where he lives with his wife and son.

Brandon Brown

Brandon Brown is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Flowering Mall. He writes about art and culture for Open Space, the magazine and blog of the SFMOMA and Bay Area journal Art Practical. He is an editor at Krupskaya, and occasionally publishes small press materials under the imprint OMG! In 2014, Big Lucks will publish a new book, Shadow Lanka.

Joseph Bradshaw

Joseph Bradshaw is a poet, educator, and archivist. He is the author of several chapbooks, as well as the full-length In the Common Dream of George Oppen (Shearsman Books). He curates a readings series at Berl’s Poetry Shop in Brooklyn called Leslie Flint Presents, and is at work on a book about the afterlife of the New York School.

 

Jamie Townsend is a writer of various means living in NYC. He’s the managing editor of Aufgabe, a social media editor for Drunken Boat, and co-runs Elderly, an emergent hub of ebullience and disgust. He is author of several chapbooks, most recently PROPOSITIONS (Mondo Bummer 2014), as well as the forthcoming long-player SHADE (Elis Press, 2014).

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Published Feb 17, 2014 - Comments Off

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