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Friday, July 17, 2009

Next Objectivists on the Beach

Join Matthias Regan & the Next Objectivists this Sunday, 19 July, at the Beach Poets' Pavilion on Loyola Beach in Rogers Park. Readings begin at 4:00!

LYRIC VOICE & the Poetics of the Outsidereal

NEXT FRIDAY, 24 July, the Next Objectivists host our next guest objectivist, the poet, publisher, scholar & educator, ERIC ELSHTAIN!

Eric Elshtain is the author of Here in Premonition & The Cheaper the Crook, the Gaudier the Patter; his work can be found in journals such as McSweeney's, Skanky Possum, Notre Dame Review, Ploughshares, and Salt Hill. He is the editor of BEARD OF BEES PRESS ( & strongly rumored to be the creative force behind GNOETRY, the human/computer collaborative poetry mechanism.

On Friday, Eric will lead a workshop on the outsidereal poetics of voice. He has assembled a wonderful selection of readings for the workshop, which is attached to this e-mail & includes this poem (among others) by Arthur Sze:

Six Persimmons

Cabron,” rings in the ears as he walks down
the corridor to death row. Where is the epicenter
of a Los Angeles earthquake? Hypocenter of “Fat Man”?
He watches a woman pour honey into a jar crammed
with psilocybin mushrooms. A few cells down,
a priest intones and oozes black truffles in olive oil.
He is about to look at the poems of a murderer,
sees a sliced five-thousand-year-old silkworm cocoon.
x: pinhole, eclipse; the, a; shadow of mosquito,
fern frond uncoiling in mist. “Dot,” says a Japanese
calligrapher who draws a dot beginning on the floor
off the page. He looks at the page, shrugs,
there is nothing there, and pictures budding chamisa
in a courtyard, yellow yarrow hanging over a bed.
In Waimea Canyon, ‘apapane, ’i’iwi.x: it’s
the shapes of ice in an ice floe, a light-green
glazed lotus-shaped hot-water bowl. He opens his eyes
and recalls staring into her eyes as she comes.

Join us one week from today for a potluck dinner & group meditation on a next objectivist poetics of lyric voice!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Robert Creeley’s “The Rain”

The second poem we examined also concerns the weather that is whether, and was also written by a member of the “Black Mountain” school of poets: “The Rain” by Robert Creeley. Here is the poem in its entirety:
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it

that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me

something other than this,
something not so insistent—
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.
This poem was first published in one of the chapbooks Creeley drew upon to create the collection For Love: Poems 1950 – 1960 (which was published by Charles Scribners’ sons in 1962), and can be found in the Collected Poems, 1945 – 1975 (University of California Press); it receives an important critical treatment from Marjorie Perloff (whose introduction to Gunslinger is also a valuable introduction to that work), which some of the week’s workshop members also read.

Whereas Dorn’s poem puts grand vistas upon either side of the ego, Creeley’s world is interior, intimate, claustrophobic. Stuck indoors because of bad weather, the poet occupies himself with the dreary thoughts of an equally dismal whether. When a steady rain falls we hear it for a time, then forget it, its patter becoming a background noise—forgotten by virtue of its very persistence. The mind, Creeley suggests, is quite the opposite—it exists only by returning to itself, again and again. The relation of the “I” to the “myself” is one of continually enacted returns—self-consciousness as the mind’s nagging “insistence” that it be known to itself. One thinks of Beckett’s line, delivered (if memory serves) by Hamm in Endgame: “a dripping in my head.” The poet wishes for “something other than this, / something not so insistent,” but finds no satisfaction. Neither “ease” nor “hardness” emerges to provide relief from the dull patter of the mind’s self-perpetuating “uneasiness.”

There is a parallel here to the critique of western values we find in Dorn’s poem. Like many poets of his generation—John Cage, Allan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen—Creeley expresses uneasiness with Cartesian rationality. The zen Buddhism being promoted in artistic circles by D. T. Suzuki and others offers a position from which to criticize the Cartesian subject as suffering from “mind over mind.”

Help to escape this self’s haunting of the self—if help it is—arrives in the penultimate stanza, which introduces a second (third?) presence into the poem—the lover to whom the poem’s final three sentences are addressed. As in William’s poem, in which the wife to whom the poem is addressed primarily exists as a back-formation of the poet’s (or even, the poem’s) need to address ‘someone’, in “The Rain” the lover emerges as a subject projection, rather than as a being in the material world. It is possible to ‘flesh out’ this lover, as Perloff does, by imagining a domestic scene, just as such scene is built up by indirect reference in “This is Just to Say.”

In Creeley’s poem, we can imagine that a quarrel has taken place, and that the “final uneasiness” is the momentary conclusion of the argument—not an end to the anger, but only to its overt verbal expression. In this reading, the “semi- / lust of intentional indifference” is an ‘adult’ version of “the silent treatment.” All the libidinal energy is focused around pretending to ignore the other person.

Do the last three sentences of Creeley’s poem signal an end to this game? Are we to read them as in quotation marks—as a direct address to the lover, one that ends the silence? Or do they exist only in the silence of the poet’s mind, the silence of the page? Does the poet write the poem rather than say the words? The profundity of Creeley’s poem—its point of greatest logopoetic density, where the wit is transformative—lies in the emphasis it places on the single, ordinary word, “wet.” Sandwiched between lust and “decent happiness,” “wet” (as Perloff points out) takes on an explicit sexual connotation, one that is essentially pornographic in its effort to find evidence of desire on the lover’s body. This connotation, however, is immediately (although not completely) overwhelmed by the wetness of the rain. At the very moment of this inward-looking intimacy, we are overwhelmed by the outside ‘reality’ of water falling on the house—“wetness” was on the brain because of the rain. Or perhaps we should write “underwhelmed,” because what’s most remarkable is not the intrusion of a physically oriented vulgarity into the lyric, but the charge produced by the word’s verbal vulgarity. “Wet” is such a meager, common term. It’s hardly sufficient. As a word, it’s all washed up. If that’s not the case, its because Creeley has learned, from Williams and the Objectivsts and writers like Cage and Beckett, that it’s the ordinary words that do the most work.

Given the importance of double (or triple?) meanings—the importance of the display of verbal wit—we must ask, has the poet found a way out of the Cartesian anxiety? Is any solace from the uneasiness of ‘mind over mind’ to be found in the virtuosity of this duplicity? The answer must be no, in that the only ‘solution’ presented by the discovery of verbal density in the commonplace word is that of the poem itself. The poem gets written, the poet finds his satisfaction. The other, in as much as she exists at all, must cease to operate as a presence in the world in order for the poem to generate its aesthetic virtuosity. There’s something savage, if not brutal, in this displacement—more so in Creeley’s work than in Williams’ I think, because Creeley’s working in poetic form that Williams is inventing.

The major difference between Dorn’s immensely ‘outside’ approach and Creeley’s intensely ‘inside’ one helps us to better understand the politics of poetic style. Dorn’s parody creates a site of contestation—literally a battle over land and language—that Creeley’s poem denies. In Dorn’s poem, there is a utopia of virgin possibilities—the moon & the stars & the “perfect night” have been folded into western man’s empirical and empire-driven imagination, but in the vastness of their physicality they persist beyond all human imagination. Creeley’s more cynical and satirical verse presumes an impossibility of escape from the self. The subject is everything; the poem is everything; and all remains within the lyric tradition. By not taking seriously this tradition, Dorn risks a utopian frivolity. By taking it very seriously, Creeley condemns himself, as poet, to remaining within the uneasiness of the I-self.


Edward Dorn’s “Prolegomenon”

We began with a mostly hypothetical problematic. Florence Herman Williams, wife of the famous poet, writes a reply to one of his most famous poems, “This Is Just to Say”:
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

What becomes of her reply? What happens to the poem if the reply—let’s suppose it’s a similar note, granting or denying the forgiveness the poet goes on to ask for, or better yet, a treatise on democratic poetic forms & domestic intimacies. What happens when the reply emerges, bringing the poem back into contact with an immediate context of its dialogic reality—the causal family conversation that the poem tears itself away from even as it reproduces one side of it?

These questions, even when regarded hypothetically, lead us to a problematic that the philosopher Jacques Rancière calls “the distribution of the sensible.” Poetry and politics share this activity general activity, Rancière argues, because both arrange and rearrange the subjects, scenes, values & textures that compose our commonsense. Artists, like politicians, show us what is to be regarded as ordinary, as extraordinary, as worthy of attention, and, by omission, as unnoticeable. In the choice and treatment of subjects the writer of poems, like the writer of speeches, decides who gets to count as a subject & what gets to count as the world.

Thus, for example, in Williams’ poem, the profoundly democratic induction of ordinary domestic life into poetry—the refrigerator note as viable poetic form & content—occurs through a kind of surgical cutting that excises Flora from the world. The poem no longer addresses her—it is, as Williams famously wrote of all his poems, “addressed to the imagination.” The ‘note to wife’ becomes ‘poem as note’ by eliminating, among other things, the wife. The note is a poem because the woman is not. The poem removes itself from the world, precisely in order to bring that worldliness into the aesthetic realm; it makes the note its object by replacing the ‘original’ subject of its address—Flora—with an (imagined) reader—the subject to whom the poem is addressed. Flora is consigned to a place beyond even objectivity—a space of non-being. In this way, Williams founds a modern democratic poetics through a process of oblivion (much the way democratic American society is founded on profoundly antidemocratic systems of genocide & slavery).
In our workshop on Thursday, 25 June, we pursued these questions by reading two poetic passages written by two poets who were unquestionably, if somewhat indirectly, ‘disciples’ of Williams. Both passages about forty years ago, in that very exciting time in American poetry & politics known as ‘the sixties’—a time when repressed subjects of American democracy returned to haunt its aesthetic and political norms.

The first passage was the “Prolegomenon” to Book IIII of Ed Dorn’s hippy/cowboy epic, Gunslinger. Published as a limited edition pamphlet by Zephyrus Image in 1975, this marvelous passage also appears in the 1989 Duke University Press publication of the complete poem. It begins with its first letter partially obscured by the printed image of a woman in tank top & bell bottoms on a bar stool, holding aloft a drink & smoking – something – in a long holder. (Is it possible that she is at a “T-Rex Friday”?) The poem follows her raised glass with its own salute to the moon:

Goddesse, excellently bright
thou that mak’st a day of night.
You tell us
men are numberless
and that Great and Mother
were once synonymous.
Immediately evident is the faux Chaucerian English that provides the “female” side of this poem’s stylistic structure. One strand of Dorn’s logopoetics (“the dance of intellect among the words”—Pound) involves the presentation of this pseudo-traditional lit speak, which we might take to mean ‘culture’ in its most ‘pure’ & corrupted form:
We are drawn beneath your fieryness
which comes down to us
on the wing of Eleusian image [. . .]
Here is the romantic moonlight, the soft terrain of poetry, which is malleable as the cultural myths that give it life. But in stark contrast to this, another kind of knowledge production emerges:
We survey the Colorado plateau.
[. . . ]

This is all water carved
the body thrust into the hydrasphere
and where the green mesas give way
to the Vulcan floor, [. . .]
This scientific regime of meaning, “affirmed” by “cold instruments,” contrasts with the “fieryness,” such that the play between these elements reveals itself to be an organizing principle of the poem. It’s a contrast between literary language—styled as feminine and aligned with imagination and passion—and technological language—styled as masculine and aligned with the technical objectivity of the surveyor’s eye. “[W]e give our inwardness / in some degree to all things / but to fire we give everything,” says the first voice, bringing intimacy into direct contact with the natural world; “it is truly a small heat / our cold instruments do affirm it,” says the second, interposing the skepticism of rational civilization.

At stake in game between contesting elements is our view of the environment—of what Dorn called “the West,” meaning both a physical landscape and the imagination which enfolds it within history and destiny: the world-view that particulars of the landscape—depending upon whether they are selected to stand in for the whole or not—come to represent. Williams referred to the dialectic of material reality & imaginative representation as “the weather”: that which is everywhere & nowhere, inescapable & yet avoidable, cyclical yet unpredictable, remarkable only when it changes, yet always changing. For the modern poet, the weather is always also a whether: what gets recorded & how & why? What stands in for ‘the world’? To become the weather is to be expelled form the world of subjects in order to become that about which subjects talk—the world as backdrop, as beautiful landscape; whether or not any particular person belongs to one or the other of these categories is a political choice exercised by the poet.

In the next several stanzas, Dorn’s poem lingers on the impossibility of one or other world-view. Looking across the Colorado basin, he observes that
not far
from Farmington and other interferences
with the perfect night
and the glittering trail
of the silent Vía Láctea
there is a civil scar
so cosmetic, one can’t see it.
The “interferences” with the “perfect night” are the lights of small cities, like Farmington, New Mexico, which compete with the “glittering trail” of the milky way. Both technological and natural forms of luminescence interfere with the moon’s light—and yet all three sources are not enough to illuminate the “civil scar” that remains known and yet unknown—‘visible’ only in its absence. It is this “cosmetic” “superimposition” that Dorn pursues in the next stanza, in which he describes this absent presence as
like the ultimate property
of the ego, an invisible claim
to a scratchy indultum
from which smoke pours forth.
“[I]ndultum” enters medieval English from the Latin, meaning indulgence—a dispensation granted by the Pope, permitting deviation from church law; here this allowance is like a secret wish—it comes to us only indirectly, through a “claim” is itself “invisible” and lost in the scratches (the Papal ink?) and smoke (hellfire?) of its own making. What is this missing element if not “property” itself—the impossible “claim” to the land that allows (Western) civilization to pour its interfering putrescence—a darker night of ink & smoke—among the plateaus?

Here the poem turns away from its own carefully balanced ambivalence, rejecting the surveyor’s eye and its egoistic claim to property rights in favor of the goddesse’s less proprietary gaze; the last stanza returns us definitely to the “olde tyme” language with which it began:
But now over the endless sagey brush
the moon makes her silvery bid
and in the cool dry air of the niht
the winde wankles across the cattle grid.

Having previously delineated the oppositional linguistic and perceptual modes, Dorn’s poem commits a political act by adopting the moon’s mode. Yet he does without denying the persistence of the other world-view. If the “winde wankles” it does so across the “cattle grid.” The term refers both to a particular physical structure, a depression in a roadway covered with bars designed to keep cattle from passing along roads that cut across pastures, and the economic and cultural world-views that give rise to such a device—the surveyor’s grid that transforms land into property. The poem’s sense of closure is very much dependent upon the rhyme of this last word with “bid”—a poetic presence which calls to mind another scene—that of the auction where cattle are bought and sold. Consequently, even the moon becomes associated with the economic principles that her light seems intended to oppose. A further ambiguity and intermingling remains even as the poem throws down with the “goddesse.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

This Thursday's Workshop

Attention past present & future Next Objectivists!

We are meeting this Thursday, 9 July, at our usual time & place:

The Mess Hall in Rogers Park, Chicago, 7:00 - 10:00 pm.

The Mess Hall is located at 6932 N. Glenwood Ave. A stone's throw from the Morse Red Line stop & close to the Morse Metra station & Broadway & Clark buses! Easy to bicycle there, as well!

This Thursday, we'll be discussing selected passages from the work of Lola Ridge.

Here's a poem we'll be looking at:


Long vast shapes . . . cooled and flushed through with darkness . . .
Lidless windows
Glazed with a flashy luster
From some little pert cafe chirping up like a sparrow.
And down among iron guts
Piled silver
Throwing gray spatter of light . . . pale without heat . . .
Like the pallor of dead bodies.

We'll also be mining the synesthetic or/e generated by our in-the-field poetypists. Positions are available in our Poetypist pool! We're transcribing immediate worldly sensations into the imagination using typing machines in public locations all summer. See the previous post for more details. Send applications to

Join us! Everything is waiting.