Search This Blog

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Christopher Alexander & Kristen Gallagher Reading

On Saturday, 28 February, we read the work of our guest obectivists in our usual fashion: the poet reads a passage of his or her work, which is then read a second time by another obectivist and then discussed, sometimes at length, by the group before another poem is read. It’s a slow process, but one that turns attention away from the author & onto the work at hand.

Here is my initial take on just a very little of all that we discussed. Other objectivists & interested parties are welcome to join in by posting their own takes on the poetry!

I have read Alexander’s work for many years & have known some of Gallagher’s as well for quite a few years. In my view, both poets practice exemplary forms of poetry from the outside. Their writing is often intertwined in various way—they have recently co-authored a number of remarkable books (including Thumb Suckers & Pundits) written by various objectivist methods—particularly the use of another medium as the primary source text from which to draw poetic experiences (TS&P is drawn from television “talking head” news programs watched from May to November, 2007). The basic principles of imagism are everywhere present in this writing—economical, melodious but prose virtues, a collage of images rather than a coherent narrative.

But their presentations at the Next Objectivists on Saturday were from quite different poetic practices. Reading this work, it occurred to me that a some of the larger assumptions that motivate what I’m calling objectivist practice can be discerned when regarding so of the differences in poetic style.

We began with a sequence from Gallagher’s project “No Goal.” I write ‘project’ because although a book entitled No Goal was published in 2006 by Rubba Ducky Press, Gallagher’s more recent work continues to appear under this title: for example in the Fall 2008 issue of the absolutely lovely magazine Model Homes. The project is clearly an on-going experiment with various methods of writing everyday life in the modern world & the writing is itself about processes, rather than nominal states. Processional writing is a very important part of the Next Objectivism—because our focus is on the work, not the resume, we tend to reject the implicit narrative of a moment often found in first-person lyrics in favor of on-going experiments which are sliced into various samples.

The first passage of Kristen Gallagher’s work that we read was from a sequence entitled “Reading a Map”:

We’re facing this way. We came down. We just came from here so this is that – what is that? This is that and and this is that – OH!—ok wait—what is that? This is that Am I wrong? I just don’t know! well, yeah. I thought we were coming from here—we are—but then that would be here then—oh—and this Yeah, I don’t remember june beetle bridge….mm-mmm, so I guess we came this way. That’s ok, whatever, here we are. This way? This way? I dunno. This way? Yah, you’re right. This way.

I was forgetting that we were meant to come.

The forest is ending.

Oh, it’s Cars.

This poetry takes an austere, holistic approach to the imagination. Gallagher states that this approach to poetry begins with Wordsworth’s famous decision to write in “the real language of men.” At the beginning of what Jacques Rancière calls the “aesthetic revolution”—the ‘silent revolution’ that shifted the relationship between art and the world toward its modern subversion of classical genres—Wordsworth declares that poetry belongs to the domain of ordinary language as its spoken. William Carlos Williams later calls this project “writing in the idiom,” and the contemporary poet Bob Perelman—an important influence on Gallagher’s work—carries on this tradition by tracing the movements of “vernacular” thought.

Gallagher’s approach is remarkably straight-forward: she records conversations using a hand-held audio cd recorder, and makes transcriptions of these overheard conversations the basis for her writing. Gallagher speaks of her poetry as a kind of sampling—the poet as d.j., which is version of the poetry as editor. (Marianne Moore is an important influence here—she also cultivated an editorialist sensibility for writing from the outside.)

I call this style “holistic” in order to indicate the very clear distinction that is maintained between the word as embodied speech act—language caught up in the flesh of the moment—and the word as literary orphan—the faceless, nameless letter of the text which confronts us from out of nowhere (from the clean slate, blank void of the page) & without the clear intent of meaningful communication. This distinction between the words as spoken and the words as printed—the basis for Williams’ notion of the imagination—is everywhere evident in Gallagher’s poetry.

On the one hand: immersion in the immediacy of the world—the voice or voices are lost, turned around, living in the confusion of the moment. Absorption in the drama. Words as moment by moment efforts to make sense of the world. On the other hand: the distance of mechanistic recording. The simple but absolute difference of transcription as a removal and return. The dramatic turning away of anti-absorption. Words revealing their own impersonal patterns of relation as they are carried away from their immediacy into the subtle negation of utility occasioned by the aesthetic regime.

If the ultimate goal of the Next Objectivists is to teach ourselves a mode of composition I call “Harmalodics” (the word is Ornette Coleman’s, used to describe a mode of collective improvisatory composition based on the rhythmic spacing of ideas—in short a melody of meanings), Gallagher’s work shows us how poetic harmony can be produced by allowing the clear and direct distinction between two modes of language to reveal itself. A lower pitch—the immediate, idiomatic, vernacular register—resonates alongside a higher pitch—the straining toward the free circulation of words in the aesthetic realm of the literary.

Chris Alexander’s work, by contrast, engages a multiplicity of tonal shifts to generate a flashier, more intricately textured harmonizing. Alexander also draws from idiomatic source texts—but his sources are internet conversations and blog posts. For several years, Alexander has produced Zombie Safety Puppet Show (, a poetry blog that actually makes poetry out of the material on other blogs. We began with this passage from one of Alexander’s recent blog poem “More Than Meets the Eye, Bitches!”

oh yes, I told you it was awesome
now I’ll start to critique it…

crazy product placement in like every shot
no this product placement was way over the top
like all the GM cars & everybody scarfing up
Pepsi with the logo fixed & in focus.
The xbox placement was cool though,
they weren’t all GM cars.
Yes they were, name one non-GM car
even the ambulance was a fucking GMC
& do not get me started on the military propaganda

The same poem ends with these lines, which delighted everybody:

seriously: dude
dude seriously
how about that Transformers movie
Are there some robots in that shit or what?
Uh your moms in it

Alexander pays minute attention to both idiomatic textures of the literary chatter of the internet and the melodic elements of imagist poetry, as practiced by Williams, Pound, Moore, Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Neidecker & other poets. As the poem begins, we disentangle the nets of being that make up internet chatter. The voices are not particularly distinguished on Alexander’s page, so that it takes a moment to recognize the terms of the debate one is ‘overhearing.’ An argument about whether or not every robot car in the Transformers movie was branded by General Motors or not is itself peculiarly precise—it reveals a critical engagement on the part of wary consumers, while at the same time showing the terms of their debate to be caught up in a crippling—if also exhilarating—minutia.

A similar set of conversational gambits unfolds in the second quoted section: the delicate tones of bored playfulness are brought forward in this little poetic dialogue, which is also about engaging and refusing to engage in the production consumption of mass-marketed entertainment cultures. Deadening apathy (the stupid, obvious joke) & organic modes of resistance to consumer culture (Rabelasian crudities and playful reproductions of verbal speech acts) intermingle.

In many of Alexander’s short pieces, this harmonious positioning of tones & textures calls attention to a species of shame cultivated in proximity to the culture industry’s shameless promotion of all things cute, adorable, cuddly, and otherwise gooey with cheap sentiment. The poems manage this relation formally, by partially imitating the textures they describe, even while maintaining a clear sense of nausea. This ‘inside/outside’ relation to the aesthetic and political sensations provoked by cultural products in something Alexander learned from Ed Dorn’s Abhorrences, and one way to think of this poetry is as a sequence of poetic editorials on the politics of cuddling in post-Columbine on-line American world-culture. Consider “Haiku Super Explosion”:

1 plastic measle, 6 glasses of cola & absolutely no sleep
46 Beanie Babies, all mint with tags apart
a devil doll on stick legs in fascista leather
gray distressed Converse sneakers,
big flapping horse’s ears & crap film acting
El rey de los Monstruos contra el Rey de Skull Island
no tag chubby free celebrity porn video
Enough rubber to make even the Michelin Man blush

A polyphony of collaged passages that belong and don’t belong to the “voice” of the poem—a voice against itself, a patterning of different tones of signification to produce a harmonic essay on a very protean topic: the way desires are organized by the marketplace to produce opiates. Adrift in a sea of endlessly proliferating choices, we become like Williams’ “automatons,” “locked and forgot in their desires—unroused.” Alexander objectifies this drifting. His poems are like glass submarines immersed in the ocean of imagination, charting the little pink blossoming devils’ flowers & glowing sea snakes of democratic culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment