To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Mark Weiss: Suite of Dances XXIV: Song of a Leaping Girl

Unfolds herself from the chair.

Each line a decision.

“Already the years will pass without me.”

This time of year no nights are green,
Maid Marian.

Lost thoughts
now revealed in all their nakedness.

The lover and his loss.

Here on Treasure Island.

the Lord of the Isles
the King of Skye.

Simultaneity of forms.

The desperate lives of squirrels.

The random wilderness,
the stories we never told.

As a Jew among Christians
it's never forgotten.
The map of the world a map of scars.

Songs of a leaping girl.
Remember how terrible this beauty,
and what its cost.

Sometimes the simplest tunes.

Heroes, for the children
who survive.

Your fate is Fate.
Your fate's to be fated.

Those rhyming twins the Sun and Moon
whom a dream hath possessed.
“You may talk to god,
but not to me.” And he,
“I am the only god
you need to talk to.”

Bring your name and nothing more and come to me
here in the mountains.


Starting out
                        with a version
of there.

And something else had happened.

It's the simple things
that get forgotten.

Of poverty
a virtue
among his tribe.

The little girl protests her innocence,
realizes it’s hopeless,
and frowns.

Does mind speak
in this figurine?

If you wish, I can tell you
what you want to know.

Trick. Tricked out
and in.

So deft, she seems
to play an air
one strains
to listen for.

With a sigh,
Relents. It had been
too long.

Here it is, without a cause
in the world.

He prophesized:
you were offered
an end of time,
but it didn't happen.
Hold your breath
and it will still be there.
Prepare for other times.


My heart is not my own,
he said, re

Little enough to say.

Small dog
alone in the cold
cries for its master.

Teach acceptance to a crippled child.

They clothe their skins
with skins. “My skins,”                  
they call them.

Like a tune gone inwards.

In the in and out of sleep.

“You're the machine that squeaks,”
she tells him.

One learns the figures of the dance.

A table precise as an altar. Why not?
And eats the slain.

A woman
in water.
“So you say,”
she said.

or athwart upon.

Hunger pangs. “We all feel them,”
she told her children, “never mind.”
And went about her chores.

The same
woman, late
and soon.

A smear of meaning.


In the story a man digs a hole. Finding nothing,
he digs further, through eruptions and earthquakes and rising seas
and swamps and glaciers.
Nothing, no bones, no shards.
Autumn turns to winter turns to spring.
This hole
the only thing that's ever been there.
And on a day that's not
the anniversary of anything, he's done, enough,
and notices the sky, the plants, the breeze,
the hills that fill his yard,
and smiles. He thinks,
I'll place a marker here.

The serial exile's procession of names.

Last chances are last chances.

Distill in silence.

All dead, these brief creatures,
says the tree.

Gray day   red head in a green
glade bobs above the privet.

The light
picks out a moment
from the edges of cities.

Not the ball, but the arc
it traces, as a white thought
carries the wind.

In the morning she looks in the mirror,
and sighs. Stains
of whatever histories.
The moment's gravity. And the sun
has also marked her passage.

Reflections of clouds
and reflected on clouds
and reflections of clouds.

Cried and cried,
and then she died.

Little enough
to save from the wreck.

[note. A writer of remarkable skills & insights, Weiss has written of the present venture: “I’ve joked before that my work isn’t so much composition by field as composition of field. A Suite of Dances might be composition by notebook. It’s an extension of the way I’ve worked for the past 25 years. Probably I’ve been reacting to an anxiety felt by translators, historians, and archaeologists in the absence of context. This is close to context in the absence of event. Though I hope that there’s something like an architecture, perhaps musical, holding it together. The title suggests, for me, at least, the baroque, when suites of dances were a major form, and my understanding of baroque art in all media as an attempt to experience the heterogeneity of event not as chaos but as something like a grand, encompassing chord. The selection above is part 24 of 28 named parts, filling 200 pages.” An earlier section appeared previously in Poems and Poetics.]

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (13): Haroldo de Campos, Three poems & an essay on poetry

[Best known among us as the co-founder (with his brother Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari) of Noigandres, the great Brazilian experimental & concrete poetry movement of the later 20th century, Haroldo moved his work in multiple directions, to place him among the truly grand poets of the Americas, north & south, early & late, & in multiple languages.  His monumental poem series, Galaxias, can well be compared to modernist epics like those of Pound, Zukofsky, Williams, Neruda, & Césaire, all of whom will be featured in the transnational anthology of North & South American poetry that Heriberto Yépez & I are now preparing for University of California Press. And in a future posting on Poems and Poetics I will be including an excerpt as well from Haroldo’s Galaxias, translated by Odile Cisneros with Suzanne Jill Levine. (J.R.)]

Translation from Portuguese by A.S. Bessa



Silver birds, the Poem
draws theory from its own flight.
Philomel of metamorphosed blue,
measured geometrician
the Poem thinks itself
as a circle thinks its center
as the radii think the circle
crystalline fulcrum of the movement.


A bird imitates itself at each flight
zenith of ivory where a ruffled
anxiety is arbiter
over the vectorial lines of the movement.
A bird becomes itself in its flight
mirror of the self, mature
timing over Time.


Equanimous, the Poem ignores itself.
Leopard pondering itself in a leap,
what becomes of the prey, plume of sound,
gazelle of the senses?
The Poem proposes itself: system
of rancorous premises
evolution of figures against the wind
star chess. Salamander of arsons
that provokes, unhurt endures,
Sun set in its center.


And how is it done? What theory
rules the spaces of its flight?
What last retains it? What load
curves the tension of its breath?
Sitar of the tongue, how does one hear?
Cut out of gold, as such we see it,
proportioned to it—the Thought.


See: broke in half
the airy fuse of the movement
the ballerina rests. Acrobat,
being of easy flight,
plenilunium princess of a kingdom
of eolian veils: Air.
Wherefrom the impulse that propels her,
proud, to the fleeting commitment?
Unlike the bird
according to nature
but as a god
contra naturam flies.


Such is the poem. In the fields of eolian
equilibrium that it aspires
sustained by its dexterity.
Winged agile athlete
aims at the trapeze of the venture.
Birds do not imagine themselves.
The Poem pre-meditates.
They run the cusp of infinite
astronomy of which they are plumed Orions.
It, arbiter and vindicator of itself,
Lusbel leaps over the abyss,
in front of a greater king
a king lesser great.


in this re / verse of the ego
I see you
more plus than myself
plusquamfuture minuspoet
and in the trobar clus
of this hour (ours)
incestuous sister
prima pura impura
in which
ourselves (Siamese-same)

a poem begins
where it ends:
the margin of doubt
a sudden incision of geraniums
commands its destiny

and yet it begins
(where it ends) and the head
ashen (white top or albino
cucurbit laboring signs) curves it-
self under lucifer’s gift —

dome of signs: and the poem begins
quiet cancerous madness
that demands these lines from the white
(where it ends)

Translation from Portuguese by Jon Tolman
In order to bring to focus a willfully "drastic selection" in the pragmatic-utilitarian terms of Poundian theory, one could name the works of Mallarmé ("Un Coup de Dés"), Joyce, Pound and Cummings as the radial axes that generate the vectorial field of contemporary poetry. From the convergence of these axes and depending on the development of the productive process, certain results, some predictable, some not, will emerge.

It is not necessary here to enter deeply into the multiple problems which the mere mention of these names together provokes on the threshold of contemporary experiments in poetry. Instead it will be sufficient to merely give some hints of the morpho-cultural catalysis caused by their works.

The Mallarméan constellation‑poem has as its base a concept of multi-divisions or capillary structure. This concept liquidates the notion of linear development divided into beginning‑middle‑end. It substitutes in its place a circular organization of poetic material that abolishes any rhythmic clockwork based on the "rule of thumb" of metrification. Silence emerges from that truly verbal rosette, "Un Coup de Dés," as the primordial element of rhythmic organization. As Sartre has said: "Silence itself is defined by its relationship with words, just as the pause in music receives its meaning from the group of notes which surround it. This silence is a moment of language."  This permits us to apply to poetry what Pierre Boulez affirmed of music: "It is one of those truths so difficult to demonstrate that music is not only 'the art of sounds,' but that it is better defined as a counterpoint of sound and silence."

The Joycean universe also evolved from a linear development of time toward space‑time or the infusion of the whole in the part ("allspace in a notshall"), adopting as the organogram of Finnegans Wake the Vico‑vicious circle. Joyce's technique evolved pari passu with his own work and under the influence of Bergson's concept of "durée."

Mallarmé developed a visual notion of graphic space, served by the prismatic notation of poetic imagination in ebbs and flows which are dislocated like the elements of a mobile, utilizing silence in the way that Calder used air. Joyce, on the other hand, holds to the materialization of a "polydimensional limitless flow"—the "durée réelle," the riverrun of "élan vital"—which obliges him to undertake a true atomization of language, where each "verbi‑voco‑visual" unit is at the same time the continent‑content of the whole work and instantly "myriad-minded."

Mallarmé practices the phenomenological reduction of the poetic object. The eidos—"Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le hasard"—is attained by means of the ellipsis of peripheral themes to the "thing in itself" of the poem. In the structure of the work, however, what Husserl notes with relation to his method also occurs: "Said with an image: that which is placed between parentheses is not erased from the phenomenological table, but simply placed between parentheses and affected by an index. But with this index it enters again into the major theme of investigation."

Joyce is led to the microscopic world by the macroscopic, emphasizing detail—panorama/panaroma—to the point where a whole metaphoric cosmos is contained in a single word. This is why it can be said of Finnegans Wake that it retains the properties of a circle--the equal distance of all its points to its center. The work is porous to the reader, accessible from any of the places one chooses to approach it.

For Cummings the word is fissile. His poems have as their fundamental element the "letter." The syllable is, for his needs, already a complex material. The "tactical modesty" of that poetic attitude is similar to that of Webern: interested in the word on the phonemic level, he orients himself toward an open poetic form, in spite of the danger of exhausting himself in the one‑minute poem, as he faces the hindrances of a still experimental syntax. As Fano has said with respect to Webern's early works, they are: "Short organizations materializing a 'possible' and concluding on the eventuality of new transformations. A catalytic procedure in which certain base elements determine the disintegration and clustering of a substance which is transformed, without themselves being affected."

Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, in particular "The Pisan Cantos," also offer the reader an open structure. They are organized by the ideogramic method, permitting a perpetual interaction of blocs of ideas which affect each other reciprocally, producing a poetic sum whose principle of composition is gestaltian, as James Blish has observed in "Rituals on Ezra Pound."

The contemporary poet—having at his disposal a lexicon which encompasses acquisitions from the symbolists to the surrealists, and in a reciprocal way, Pound’s "precise definition" (the poetic word comprehended in the fight of an art of "gist and piths"), and also having before him a structural syntax, whose revolutionary perspectives have only been faintly glimpsed—cannot allow himself to be enveloped by the Byzantine nostalgia for a fallen Constantinople, nor can he, polyp‑like, stagnate at the margins of the morpho-cultural process which beckons him toward creative adventure.

Pierre Boulez, in a conversation with Décio Pignatari, manifested his lack of interest in the "perfect" or "classic" work of art, in the sense of the diamond, and stated his concept of the open work of art as a kind of modern baroque.

Perhaps the idea of a neo‑baroque, which might correspond intrinsically to the morphological necessities of contemporary artistic language, terrifies by its mere evocation those slack spirits who love the stability of conventional formulas.

But this is not a cultural reason for failing to enlist in the crew of Argos. It is, on the contrary, a prompting to do so.

São Paulo, 1955, 1965

[The basic book for Haroldo de Campos in English is Novas: Selected Writings, edited by Antonio Sergio Bessa, Odile Cisneros, & Roland Greene, published by Northwestern University Press in 2007.  While Haroldo died in 2003, he and his brother Augusto are widely acknowledged today as two of the truly major poets of the last hundred years, bringing poetry & poetics together.]

Thursday, August 2, 2018

David Matlin: From “The Libido for the Ugly” (A work in Progress)

“The Libido for the Ugly” is the title of an essay the great American journalist, H.L. Mencken, wrote in the 1920s about the land and city-scapes he felt had been trampled into nightmare and belittling destitution as we, a hundred years later, are being trampled by presidential edicts which are the most invigorated corporate crusades to undo our Constitution and environment we have seen in generations. Mencken’s title provides some useful hold, and because it is part of our American Imagination I have brought it forward, and include here another statement made in 1920 in the Baltimore Sun, I believe now was written in a personal sorrow rather than scathing announcement, “As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”
            Mencken’s title and statement cannot necessarily explain the mercury puddles Trump intends, but it may help to begin naming the treachery and fraud which at once is shattering and converting us into players who will, if we are not careful, be forced to live and die in a plot capable of making us dismiss what we have known and must know about the auguries and pantomimes now re-ordering our lives.
            Can the ancient risks of re-conceiving ourselves and our societies word-by-word be enacted to live regeneratively and indefatigably in order to initiate fresh point-of-life labors necessary to private and political well-being our children and grandchildren will need. I am 74 years old and I think about my children and grandchildren and what I might leave them as a novelist and poet word-by-word to help them craft and enunciate a meticulous wonder to help them become specialists who can turn away from what Whitman defined as “…the blind fury of scrofulous wealth…” transforming each day in this time into episodes of cruelty and barrenness. They may need to be more sinister and alive in their experiment; garden magicians at work with care and charms and mastery, an elegance they can enter at last. To write this piece I’ve set out to explore the languages of pornography, the principles of nuclear explosions, sweat of caterpillars climbing bark to extinction. What are the civilization’s sum of deeds and how can they be spoken to.

Guccifer 2.0
DC Leaks

refers to the GRU or Russia’s Military Intelligence Service and the on-line person identified as “Guccifer 2.0” with the website “DC Leaks” used to spread rumor and panic into the election stream of America’s 2016 Presidential campaign.
            “Guccifer 2.0” sounds like a pornographic free-for-all-penthouse pet; live, local, direct from the Dungeon. You can open any “Hustler” or “Velvet” magazine, then tune into the Call Grandma Today motel and hotel adult videos and take the Limo into XTASY with Vibrator Virgins, Jenteal Hyapatia Lee, the Gasmic Epicures, or look at the Las Vegas NUDE entertainment guides and you’ll experience the same sounds, the same lures, the same carnivores.
            Give it “Shower Power” “Tub Tarts” the “Someone’s Watching” Guccifer girls and boys in the “We’re Gonna Finish You Off” details.
            “Bionica” is there, “Felicia” in all her dialects, “Debi Diamond” and “Putin’s
            “Queeroxes” from the White House to Jared Kushner’s all we want is direct access to where the back door really begins.
Guccifer 2.0/DC Leaks
Experience the wet
T-Shirt Contest

My entrance identification badge reads
CE                         RETAIL
ID 0492554 GR

Waves of cold sundown wind begin to move over the Nevada Desert as I check into a “Westward Ho” room, turn on the television after hours of dangerous Mojave driving in a Friday night two hundred mile traffic jam headed seven days into the new Millennium, and headed too for Las Vegas and the International Porn Convention. I’m an “official” guest of my son and his friends from the barrios of Carson, California, tough “Homeys” who come to this round-up every year, a posse of samplers ready for titty bars, lap dancers, and awards ceremonies for best blow jobs, best anal sex, best gang bangs just off shore from all of America’s versions of Christianity, though if you care to look, the edges of that continent still loom with irradiated angelologies, double formed satans, and congenerated harlot nights.
A commercial for the “Titanic” appears on screen. Items from the remote tragedy are on display at one of the casinos – clocks stopped in time, sumptuous jewelry floating in underwater scenes with hands pulling slowly, lingeringly apart at the moment of tenderest anguish. I notice the curtains are just thin enough to let in a display of neon so concise in its force, its dilations of hungers I don’t see at first the litter swirling everywhere in this arched, straining ground zero licked by writhing gold belly tides.
The drive has made both my son and me restless so we go down Las Vegas Boulevard, or “The Strip.” The sidewalks are covered with ripped and shredded porn advertisements taken from perfumed vending boxes located about every twenty yards.
You can call:                          dreamkittens, the
                                                ultimate purring girls,
                                                Brie (796-N6U8D3E3)
                                                Bad Ass Bitches
                                                Maggie the French Maid who’ll
                                                come to yer room, Little Boys Blue,
                                                Country Girls Gone Big City, Pigtails & Panties
                                                A Man Called Horse
                                                Lil, turned off by red meat and
                                                Watch Me Bend Every Which Way Kim

[note.  As a poet & novelist, as well as in his groundbreaking study of America’s prisons (Prisons: Inside the New America), Matlin gives us a political/mental/visceral mapping of the fate of America, its people, & the other worlds on which it has impinged in the course of our lifetimes.  In his work, then & now, he displays the poetry/history combine that marks the best side of American writing in whatever form it takes.  In an early description of that work Robert Creeley wrote of Matlin’s prowess & promise: “Unremitting particular powers of the human long before it got lost in the junk—where a bird can still sing it.”  And Charles Stein, going still further: “Matlin's work is not a comfortable ‘read’—in fact it is not a ‘read’ at all—but an initiation, possibly, into the predatory condition of one's own vitality. It is a poetry that bears witness to the occluded stain of violence across American life, local and historical; its means are an ear that is tense and accurate, and an attention, particular, conscientious, and cleansing.”  The proof by now is overwhelming. (J.R.)]

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg: Five Dream Poems, Recovered

[I’m turning on today’s Poems and Poetics to some unpublished poems of my own, in which, over the years, I’ve carried along the common enough practice of using dreams as a source of poetry, sometimes as given, sometimes with multiple changes.  For me this links up most closely with our Surrealist predecessors but also of course with the far deeper poetics of shamanism, which I’ve been lucky enough to explore going back to the days of Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin. The thin line between waking & oneiric writing is one that we’re still tempted to cross & that takes on many different guises in the crossing.]

Dream Poem
A Fragment

Those who must wait, wait.

The machinery attended to,
the sheets turned back,
the steam released into the air,
the dirty particles released.

I am the foreign engineer,
the shirtless one.

I search where you are,
and I sweep
the absent leaves.* 
* [the ancient leaves]

Dreaming of Buddha
A Fragment

the sky intersected
by two buddhas

strange to say
& beautiful

as when we dream
the particles

fall into place –
each finds its hole

its wholeness only now
allows it

& we’re helpless
to do more

the dream of buddha

Blue Dog Poem

He bit me,
a blue dog,
& leapt
down from the blackened hills,
he clattered.
Blue dog
had a voice.
Call it elliptical.
Call it proud.
What possessed us
to be in love
when there were tombs
on top of tombs?
A little bird
has whispered us
to sleep.
How phantom rich
my life becomes
empty or full.
It is the fact of life
that stirs me,
not its demise 

Abattoir                                                                                                                                                                                after Robert Doisneau

a man looks at
a cow’s head
all white

its eyes are shut
it sleeps
in death

“we were the lords of what we locked in place
                                                                        after Reverdy

A hand opens

            High & dry & curved over the roofs
            The loss of memory takes hold

            Slogans go rapidly from bad to worse

     Life’s got no chance
Something you push away & it attacks you

A fact
     Night as it withers springs to life
        Grows like a sponge
Flags fluttering restored
            So everything is threatening to die

A hill looms up & still you turn from it
                                          Not moon enough
        But where the street has opened up is where our bodies
                                        Come into sight
Eyes wide to everything
We were the lords of what we locked in place
Our groans died back in us
Sounds stayed unsounded
                                    All that was once still is
Nights shutting down at nightfall
            Too late the lonely ghost springs back to life
Beyond the fissures where men pan for gold