January 30, 2006

Visible Language 39.3 (2005). Special Issue: Fluxus and Legacy, Part I.

Guest editors Ken Friedman and Owen F. Smith explain the rationale for the special issue: "Today, Fluxus enjoys a problematic fame. Fluxus is well known -- at least the name Fluxus is. At the same time, the central ideas and issues of Fluxus are overshadowed by a multiplicity of misleading or one-sided interpretations" (214).
Owen F. Smith, "Teaching and Learning about Fluxus," (218-235). A straight historical approach to Fluxus isn't as enriching as having the students participate in and create Fluxus-like work. Doing it means getting it.
Bertrand Clavez, "Fluxus--refernce or paradigm for young contemporary artists?" (236-247). Fluxus so changed the paradigms of art that current art practices are not a rehashing of, but rather a communion with the "absolutely timeless" process that is Fluxus.
"Fluxkids" (248-277). There's a letter exchange between Jackson Mac Low's children, Clarinda and Mordecai-Mark, that proves a fairly interesting read.
Ina Blom, "Fluxus Futures: Ben Vautier's signature acts and the historiography of the avant-garde," (278-307). A good framing of Ben Vautier's work, but I prefer to play around here.
The Editors, "History, Historiography and Legacy," (318-319). Refer to Clavez's argument.
In one of his letters, Mordecai-Mark Mac Low questions George Maciunas' successful branding of Fluxus: "In so far as Fluxus was about art in the moment and about opposing the dead hand of the academy and museums (my employers, of course*), creating a brand that fixed a label on a particular moment of artistic creativity seems directly counter to the idea of Fluxus" (269). And special issues like this one perpetuate the Fluxus brand, and hopefully generate interest in the work itself.
*Mordecai-Mark Mac Low is an astrophysicist.



January 29, 2006

Rebekah Werth, Bison bison (Mr. Panda, 2005). 26 pages. $1.

I wish she had continued this project to a full-length offering, it's that good. The visual information alone cries for the full-color treatment and could stand alone. Each left-hand page presents a B&W quilt-like visual with accompanying textual information below it that forces a re-examination of the image John Berger style. The quiltish pattern on page 21 has "Drunkard's Path Variation" attached to it, prompting a re-evaluation of the seemingly innocuous white space within the pattern. These images paired to their right-hand page poems make each page-turn seem like an entirely new edition. In fact, this chap reads like a collection of very successful broadsides:
I let the cat in and with her/him the smell of October, a little bit dead leafy-fire in the fire-placey, which always surprises me, because this is California and not Arkansas and I wonder who are the people with fireplaces and how can I make friends with them (22).
Mr. Panda Press
PO Box 1268
Berkeley CA 94701-1268


January 28, 2006

Robert J. Meyer-Lee, "Laureates and Beggars in Fifteenth-Century English Poetry: The Case of George Ashby," Speculum 79.3 (July 2004): 688-726.
Just as Petrarch fashioned himself heir to Virgil upon receiving the laureate thus elevating himself conceptually to the position of equal to political rulers within the realm of literature (like a ruler is to politics, the laureate is to poetry), early modern British poets tried to do likewise. George Ashby utilized Gower, Chaucer and Lydgate (and not Hoccleve who Ashby repeatedly riffs off of) to legitimize his position and that of his patron Prince Edward's claim to the throne.
Maisters Gower, Chaucer & Lydgate,
Primier poets of this nacion,
Embelysshing oure englisshe tendure algate,
Firste finders to oure consolacion
Off freshe, douce englisshe and formacion
Of newe balades, not vsed before,
By whome we all may haue lernying and love.
Meyer-Lee offers a good explaination of the laureate poetics of the time and its inability "to break loose from the historical circumstances that engender it" (726).



January 27, 2006

Indefinite Space. $6/issue or $10/2 issue subscription.

I came across a stash of Indefinite Space issues going back to vol. 1 no. 2 (1992) and decided to tuck them in my satchel for over the weekend perusal. The collection has a few gaps, but is near complete. IS is a saddle stapled zine roughly forty pages coming out annually and occasionally biannually. Co-edited by Marcia Arrieta and Kevin Joy from 1992-2004, and continued by Marcia Arrieta. The editorial model veers towards inclusion rather than exclusion or privileging one approach to poetry. There are examples of narrative, lyric, prose, minimal, visual, play... just about anything that might be recognized as poetry and can operate on a printed page.

As with many smaller poetry journals and zines from the 90s and the early oughts, the usual line-up have found a home here for their work: Simon Perchik (5, 6, 10,14); Alan Caitlin (2.1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 14); Guy R. Beining (1.2, 13, 14); B.Z. Niditch (2.1, 7, 8,13); John M. Bennett (1.2, 2.1, 5, 6, 7, 11); Richard Kostelanetz (10, 11); Michael Eastabrook (1.2, 2.1, 10); Spencer Selby (2.1, 8); Ryan G. Van Cleave (5); Errol Miller (1.2, 2.1). The only regulars missing from this period are Lyn Lifshin and Virgil Suarez.

[If you have work in every non-mainstream outlet, does the sheer volume make you mainstream?]

Some of the highlights in my read through:

Spencer Selby: His poems here aren't pictures. It's sometimes easy to forget that he crafts non-visual poems too. None of his poems in IS are visually based.

Peter Ganick, "untitled" (13): His handwritten poem works as a centerfold to the issue.

Saundra Norton, "Seascape 1" (11): Contentwise, not so much, but the line breaks not only echo but give visual and sonic shape to the text.

Fernando Aguiar (10): It's the kind of thing G. Huth might say is too easy visually, but this visual poem is humorous eye-candy.

Bob Heman, "[after Rauschenberg]" (8).

John M. Bennett, "What's Seldom Spent" (2.1): A zygotic, more meaning connected version of his poetics. A sort of missing link that proves there was a progression.

Indefinite Space
PO Box 40101
Pasadena CA 91114



January 21, 2006

"Between Poetry and Painting II" at 871 Fine Arts.

If you're in the Market and Geary area, 871 Fine Arts is exhibiting a smallish collection of visual poetry mostly from the late 60s and 70s. It's nowhere near exhaustive, but it's worth looking at, if only to get a historical perspective to compare to the visual poetry now being made. The show runs until April 1, 2006.

871 Fine Arts
49 Geary, Suite 235


January 21, 2006

Neo-Benshi, Small Press Traffic at California College of the Arts (January 20).

SPT again revives the Japanese benshi tradition in which a narrator describes, explains and adds to the story line of the silent film for the audience. The neo-benshi pulled out their poetic kit bags and barred no holds to turn selected film sequences on their heads and into an amazingly entertaining evening of live performance.
The highlights:
Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy and Colter Jocobsen turning the John Wayne vehicle The High and The Mighty (1954) into a commentary about the US annexation of Hawaii, not-so-closeted homosexuality, and crass American materialistic stupidity, all while being extremely laugh-out-loud funny.
Ronald Palmer's doppelgangered, oepidalish twist on the violence of American Psycho (2000).
The way that Summi Kaipa seemed to keep all the overt and covert tensions (sexual, familial, class) of the Baliwood film Bobby (1973) while transfering the action to the greater suburban South Bay area.
Tanya Brolaski and Dan Fisher's reworking of the Bette Davis flick Another Man's Poison (1952). Their use of homophones to create followable non-sequituurs, the timing of their dialogue matching so closely with the film so as to seemlessly coopt it, the flippant sexual and drug related references pouring out of Bette Davis' mouth all worked to make their performance a serious exercise in poetry fun.

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January 21, 2006

Cornelia Parker at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The two Parker works are stunning, both visually and conceptually.

Mass (1997) retrieves all the charcoaled pieces of a Lytle, Texas church that was struck by lightning and subsequently burned to the ground. The charred remnants are suspended from the ceiling to form a cubic mobile. The sense of order out of chaos, communal loss and recollection give this piece weight well beyond its visual brilliance.
Anti-Mass (2005) visually repeats the same theme: suspended charcoaled planks and pieces arranged in a similar cubic mobile form. This time the detritus comes from a Black church in Green Ridge, Kentucky that was burned to the ground by an arsonist. Whereas, Mass evokes congregational community, Anti-Mass documents a community in oppostion to its surroundings.
Juxtaposing these two pieces in one room was an act of commendable curating.



January 14, 2006

Chuck Stebelton, Circulation Flowers (Tougher Disguises, 2005). 75 pages. $14.95.

I keep returning to the poem "Scritti Politi"(33). The first two lines bring the heat:
The pained expression was heard as a sample.
This edition lets the aging process again.
Evocations of a stalled culture, not so much the anxiety of influence but boredom with, the fact that given the poem's set of givens it's the book, this book, that has the power of agency. The choice of the verb heard as opposed to read (we read editions, right?) posits a mini-argument about the oral nature of poetry. And the open question as to whether the Qolethic audience in fact processed the opening sound correctly. The end admonishes us in a leaf-for-the-forest kind of way: "Strange friend,/ it is light out. Our perfection gets in the way."
Circulation Flowers has paid off with every re-reading.



January 9, 2006

Dan Buck, This Day's Wait (Highwater Books, 2001). 99 pages. $8.95.
You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship (See Sharp, 1998). 20 pages. $1.50.
I picked these two up at Rock Scissors Paper zine store/burgeoning art gallery on Telegraph near Grand in Oakland.
You Can't Blow Up was originally published in 1979 by a loose syndicate of Australian anarchist and libertarian socialist groups. It's available through AK Press for $1.50 and also here for free online. The book posits an anti-terrorist argument that is worth revisiting.
Ever since I read Baudelaire's "The Bad Glazier" in Elizabeth Willis' prose poem class some years ago, I've had the sneaking suspicion that the difference between many prose poems and flash fiction pieces was a question of marketing. In fact, I've had more than one publisher explain to me that whenever they get anything poetic that can pass as fiction that's how they package it; the idea being that the poets will be able to recognize it as poetry and that fiction as a genre has better sales potential. Regardless of labelling, Dan Buck's short bursts of mordant cynicism have nothing extraneous, just very simple core narratives on which to hang a very bleak, absurdist world view.
"The Bird" begins immediately with a twist on an old fairy tale trope: "Once there was a bird with a headache" (67). The tale ends in angst, staring at the abyss: "For he knew he'd get no rest fearing that everyone in death would fear what he didn't know in life."
And while this may sound like bad Goth zine fodder, the work really does offer surprises and a freshness that obliterates any comparison between the two, so much so that I'm left wondering whether this is the poetry in prose I'm suppose to recognize as differentiated from short short fiction.



January 6, 2006

Roger Fry, "Line as a Means of Expression in Modern Art," in A Roger Fry Reader (Univ of Chicago, 1996), 326-38.

Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Dehumanization of Art (Doubleday Anchor, 1956).
Originally published in 1918, Fry's premise that the change towards more freedom "in the general quality of rhythm in modern drawing might perhaps be compared to the change from regular verse to free verse or to poetical prose" (333) is mirrored in one of Ortega y Gasset's givens in The Dehumanization of Art: "It is amazing how compact a unity every historical epoch presents throughout its various manifestations. One and the same inspiration, one and the same biological style, are recognizable in several branches of art" (4).
The Single Art theory has been around as long as art writers have. It makes it easier to label something, beit Gothic, Romantic, post-post modern etc... That aesthetic and other artist concerns would overlap among the various artistic outlets seems natural enough, both within larger groups (literature influencing painting, music impacting dance ...) and within an individual artist (Jean Cocteau for instance).
So when Geof Huth writes in his December 8 blog, "That's, of course, the point of view of a polyartist, someone who practices many arts and extols the virtues of possibility. Maybe the polyartist is always a dilettante. I've written short stories and poems, created visual and digital poems, performed sound poems, made movies, taken and developed photographs, created sculptures, painted, carved, and scratched, all in the name of art. And maybe that reduces me as an artist and my output as art, but it also celebrates the possibility of expression and tries to open the doors to the human mind," it strikes me as odd that he would feel the need to defend himself in this way.
Are there really poets out there who aren't interested in or actively engaging in other media?
A sidenote: Ortega y Gasset attempted a sociology of the arts of sorts, riffing off of Jean Marie Guyau's 1897 work. So even though Seth Ambramson begins from a different angle, his stab at it (problematic as it was) has a fairly long history.