Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Editor's Introduction to _The Arc of the Day / The Imperfectionist_ (Tinfish, 2013)

Our new book by Steve Shrader (1944-2007) is an amazing double-album of poems, made up of two manuscripts he left when he died. Because he is nearly unknown as a poet inside, as well as outside, of Hawai`i, I'm posting my introduction to the book, which also includes nearly 200 pages of poetry and an afterward by Shrader's friend, Warren Iwasa.  For more information about Shrader's book and to order it, see our website, here.  I talked about Tinfish's new book on HPR's The Conversation yesterday.
[The Castle, where Steve Shrader lived]
[Views of Waimānalo Beach from The Castle]

Editor's Introduction to Arc of the Day & The Imperfectionist

In Autumn, 1983, East West magazine in Honolulu ran a cover story on Mother Marianne of Molokai, who would be canonized by the Pope nearly thirty years later, in 2012. On the cover was a painting of Mother Marianne, her face framed by a habit, the slightest smile visible on her lips. Only after the magazine was published would its editor, Chris Pearce, discover that the nun's face was, in fact, a self-portrait of its painter, the magazine's graphic designer, Steve Shrader. I start with this anecdote because Shrader was a painter, photographer, and poet who lived for over 35 years in Hawai`i, while hiding in plain sight. He was not unknown—he had a circle of friends, he'd published a book of poems in 1970 through Ithaca Press—but he kept his poetry to himself. His apartment in a large building on Waimanalo Beach, called The Castle, was full of paintings, collages, books, music cd's, and poems that did not find their way out the door and down the staircase of The Tower. He made his living as an instructor of English, a journalist, a graphic designer; those were his public lives. What was most important to him—art, music, literature—he kept within the four walls of his house, and inside his quiet exterior. Even some of his closest friends had no idea he was so many writing poems at the end. As best I can determine, these are the poems of his last few years, written in a final rush of creativity before he died in February, 2007 at age 62.

It's appropriate that Shrader, whose poetry mixes history, fairy tale, references to the Great European Masters and to post-World War II Japanese photography, a lover of military history, local politics and journalism, model airplanes, Brazilian music, surrealism, and possessed of a strong sense of place in Hawai`i, should have lived in a building called The Castle. A looming old brown building on Waimanalo Beach, as much apartment building as house, on whose second floor (up a looping staircase into “the tower) Shrader lived for some 35 years, The Castle sits among ironwoods, with views of Rabbit Island on the one side and Mokapu Point on the other. In her 1989 memoir, My Time in Hawaii, Victoria Nelson—friend to Shrader, who took her author photo for that book—describes “the enormous sea captain's house known as the Castle.” The house is the stuff of legend: “The massive Castle was flanked by the Red Barn on one side and the Nameless House, a three-story frame house of great elegance and beauty, on the other. Legend had it that the captain's luau on December 7, 1941, had been strafed by Japanese fighters on their way back from bombing Bellows army base as the terrified family hid in the Castle's basement” (30). As Shrader's life unfolded within the Castle's walls, it also contracted. John Knox described Shrader in his eulogy this way as “form and composition. And the isolated individual, the man apart.” But the man apart entered into more than the tradition of Transcendentalism, which celebrated the individual. He was also engaged with Asian traditions in Hawai`i and the Pacific; he alluded to indigenous ones in his poetry. While he alludes sometimes to being haole (or white), in “A Constellation” he notes:

feeling indigenous
I squat in the sand
a significant participant of no plan in particular
uncomfortably at ease.

Uncomfortably at ease” describes much about these poems, which have a feel of spontaneity to them, but came out of great labor. The ease with which Shrader brings local and international traditions together belies his--anyone's--discomfort in doing so. Here's one version of that mixing, from “A Bossa Nova”:

drag that bloody gringo off
the mountaintop I say
but in this favela
we lack such remedies

except that we're but
a short walk away from
a decent pinot noir
and a big bad bento

Here “gringo” sits in for “haole,” but the “favela” to which Shrader refers is likely Waimanalo, a poor town, whose population is largely native Hawaiian, on the eastern side of O`ahu. The “pinot noir” sounds upper-crust and arty, the “big bad bento” a local Japanese box lunch with a variety of foods, which came to Hawai`i by way of contract laborers. It's an odd mix, but it's one Shrader knew well. According to Warren Iwasa, “Bento” was also a nickname for Shrader's son, Ben.]

In “French Bread,” subtitled “a deformed sonnet,” what might appear to be an arbitrary set of references reveals carefully chosen allusions to the Vietnam War (French and American chapters), and shock waves that draw in political/economic issues from Brazil to Spain. This is how the poem begins:

Big bear (Ursa Major) and little bear (Ursa Junior)
went out with Goldilocks looking for their mother,
a brilliant dope field. In the litter in an alley behind
the Vo Nguyen Giap Patisserie, a work brigade
from the commune hacked them to death with its hoes.

If “French bread” refers to a food baked in Paris, then the Vo Nguyen Giap Patisserie was where it was “deformed,” defeated. General Giap was the North Vietnamese General who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, the Americans in 1975. The commune may allude to the Paris Commune of 1871 or the communism of Ho Chi Minh, or to the Khmer Rouge, whose commune members killed fellow Cambodian citizens with hoes. The hoes, we should note, refer both to the tool and to the President of North Vietnam, Ho. Having set up a particular historical field, Shrader moves into more general territory:

Violent gestures beget violent gestures.
A plutocrat shrugs in Sao Paulo.
The diaphanous wings of a shockwave obliterate Madrid.

He links actual violence (Vietnam, Madrid of the Spanish Civil War and/or the terrorist bombings of 2004) with economic violence (the Brazilian plutocracy). And it's here that we note the apt violence of yoking the children's fairy tale of Goldilocks to the deformed fairy tale of political and military power:

Is this porridge poison? Will a mother's habit kill another rabbit?
Big bear & little bear rise from the dead
on their hind legs. Uncle Ho rises too in his boots of fire
and blows young Goldilocks away.

In a standard version of the tale, Goldilocks enters the bears' house, breaks a chair, settles in imperiously and—by extension—imperially. In the deformed tale, she is “blown away” by Uncle Ho, who takes the side of the bears. The poem ends with a fourth bear, Brer Bear:

Brer Bear: Easy to walk on d'water
but hard lord to crawl up upon d'land

The Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit tales come out of an African-American tradition. While I can't find the source of Shrader's quotation here, I locate in the Chandler Harris version of the tales a story called “Brother Bear's Big House.” In that story, Brer Bear has a large and comfortable house to which Brer Polecat wants entry. Having weaseled his way into the house, “he had sech a bad breff dat dey all hatter git out—an' he stayed an' stayed twel time stoped runnin' ag'in' him.” Another fairy tale about home invasion, another echo around the stone of Shrader's theme, another violent gesture promising only to beget more violent gestures. As someone who heard about native Hawaiian issues, Shrader would have known more than he writes in this poem about colonialism and resistance to it.

During his years in Iowa in the late 1960s, Shrader had protested the Vietnam War. Alice Notley remembers bailing him out of jail once after a protest. Vietnam references were personal as well as political, but perhaps not as personal as those references he makes later in Arc of the Day to the atom bomb. One section of the book, which is dedicated to Shrader's son Ben, is titled “Mushroom Child.” The eponymous first poem in this section is dedicated to Shomei Tomatsu, a Japanese photographer whose photographs of Nagasaki atomic bomb victims are among the most powerful responses to that event. (Ben Shrader's middle name is Shomei, some of his ancestors from Hiroshima.) One of Tomatsu's famous photographs is of a bottle melted and twisted by the force of the bomb. But Shrader's half-Japanese-American son is not the only “Mushroom Child.” Shrader was himself one, his father, Erwin Shrader, a nuclear physicist who participated in the Manhattan Project. In “Brookhaven,” from Arc of the Day, Shrader alluded to family silences and to a trip he took into Manhattan with his father: “We ate at the automat / strode among towers / rode the train home / in the quantum's silence.” In “Mushroom Child,” he elaborates: “as far as my parents were concerned / I was the Manhattan project / as is their grandson / out of the loins of Hiroshima.” The rest of the poem offers meditations on language, on metaphors of atoms and balls spinning, on what is born out of our elements. Horror and love, in other words:

language will not shield us
from that flash which half cripples us
nor from the annealing flesh resembling
animated glass

indolent on the court, arcing spheres
through circles, shooting hoops
spinning on the rim and dropping in or out

fusion's offspring, mixed son
of whatever transforms the elemental
into the complex

The metaphor is nothing if not dangerous. Any direct comparison of the atom bomb's devastation with the creation of a hapa son might seem terribly reductive, foolish even. But Shrader's method of spinning (like an atom) into the final metaphor by way of Tomatsu's photographs, an image of boys playing basketball, only then alluding to the mixing of genetic material, gives us access to the comparison, not as fixed point on a map, but as fertile (and destructive) movement. According to Iwasa, Shrader and his son watched NBA games together, a fact that renders the metaphorical literal again.

Arc of the Day is a volume at once serious and playful. Shrader was a punster (meanings hide in plain sight of other words) so his poem to the Finnish Anselm Hollo is called “Finn-de-siècle.” An anti-confessional confessional haiku ends with a telling double-entendre: “do not mistake me / for I am invisible / oblique oblige.” While he may have yearned for an invisibility cloak, several of the poems in this first collection are marred by misogyny. The second section of this book, The Imperfectionist, is more wistful, more allegorical, and far more elegiac. An entire section of the book, “52240,” is devoted to memories of Iowa City, where Shrader earned his MFA in the late 1960s. Many of these poems are dedicated to friends, alive and dead, from that time; that my correspondents didn't know Shrader had dedicated poems to them seems only logical, considering his increasing isolation.

In “Opening the Triptych,” Shrader writes that, “the central panel remains hidden yet still we feel / that obscurity is both its best and worst feature,” a phrase that could perhaps be applied to his poems. But one of the openings to the poems that I find most interesting isn't that of discovering notes about Bosch's triptych in Shrader's notes, but of finding clues to his life in Hawai`i in the poems. There are codes in all the work. Another poem, “The Da Souza Code,” (Da Souza would be a local name by way of Portuguese plantation workers, and a friend who worked for Governor Waihee) contains an allusion to the Da Vinci Code's Reon Tigaldo, or “golden ratio.” While the obvious intertexts for this poem—obvious to one who saw the poet's notes, in any case—are Bosch's “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and Ruggiero Leoncavallo's opera, I Pagliacci, Shrader also paints in ordinary words as code for place names, local parlance. “Opening the Triptych” ends with a very rare reference to time and place, “Waimanalo, Hawai`i 7/2006.” That beach is clearly one of the poems many sites. There are ti blossoms and white stretch limos, there are chopsticks with bean sauce, and there is a kite in the sky. And then in the first stanza of section 2, there is this:

we shook our bottles
till thumbs popped
visible as the steeple
in our tiny township
three to five foot faces
too quick to be human
insomnia and crackers
in a homespun hammock
unlawful use of a bellows

These last two or so lines bring us into Waimanalo, where one might eat crackers on a hammock. And then there are the “bellows.” Waimanalo Beach runs into Bellows, owned and operated by the U.S. Military, which uses the beach and its surrounding area to practice amphibious assaults. Knowing this casts the lines of the next stanza in a new context; the poet writes of a “ruff rumped grouse” that breaks away: “we wheel and shoot / blow it to smithereens.” In a poem about a triptych whose central panel is hellish, the reference to Bellows and to the fire nursed by a bellows is surely apt. One could write dozens more pages on Shrader's allusions to high art and to local places, but suffice it to say that no other poet I can think of would write, out of his own experience, such an instruction manual to places he had been, rather than those he simply imagined (pace Ashbery's “The Instruction Manual”).

Shrader's poems evoke a world at once precise and ephemeral, beautiful and awful. As he wrote these poems, he was contemplating his own mortality. At several points in the two manuscripts, he alludes to his own ashes, meant to be scattered (as they in fact were) off the beach where he lived for so many years. In “Skywriter,” for Reuel Denney, poet and cultural critic, he writes, on seeing a biplane stunt pilot fly by:

an exhilarating appeal to reason
or to death
which is reason in disguise

simple questions
wrapped in four dimensions
demanding five

the sky unfolds
I loop and bow to you elder
kinsman high above sparkling water into which I with luck
smoke and ash likewise
shall be scattered

In “Under Construction,” Shrader alludes to Hart Crane, whose origins were also in Ohio, who also wrote of an “arc,” the Brooklyn Bridge: “across Crane's curve / to Brooklyn bronzed by ash.” The “scattering” of ashes at the end of “Skywriter” echoes the scatter of sound in Crane's late poem, “The Broken Tower”:

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;
And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score
Of broken intervals… And I, their sexton slave!

Shrader, who lived in a tower in a castle, would have understood those lines nearly from the inside.

That Shrader's creative work, aside from what he did for magazines, remained invisible for so many decades is a sad fact. But I want to argue for the importance of his work now, over half a decade after his death. For in these poems, especially those in The Imperfectionist, where he works extensively in forms—among them sestina and haiku—Shrader links traditions in highly original ways. The surfaces of his poems, to say nothing of their titles, sometimes read like those of John Ashbery, at once highly artificial and utterly vernacular. As Joseph Conte argues in Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry, traditional forms like the sestina can be used to generate untraditional poems. John Ashbery's “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape” is no “Ye Goat-herd Gods” (Sir Philip Sidney). Ashbery replaced the goat-herd with Popeye and his cartoon comrades. So, in “This Idea Has People,” Shrader writes a witty sestina about teenagers that cultimates in this rant of a fourth stanza:

these teens lecture us about the fall
they lecture us about the second coming
we have a thought (we'll run away)
teens jeer loudly, hurl their cells at this idea
milling in the parking lot (we are teens
you may be older, but we've been there before)

What the form does for (and perhaps against) the poet is to turn the screen against teens back on the poet (we might imagine that he was, at the time, father to a teen). The line, “you may be older, but we've been there before,” inverts more than age. Here the teen is father to the man and the man realizes it, the sestina returning over and again to the words “teen” and “before” and (tellingingly!) “the second coming.” The poem ends, “when we were teens, that is, before the fall / ourselves an idea whose time was surely coming / before we fell and cast it all away.” What began as a screed against teens thus turns into an elegy to the poet's own early years. The time that was coming has now gone. Hart Crane wrote that “we were promised an improved infancy,” to which Shrader responds, “we were promised an improved adolescence.” The failure to improve memorialized in the poem, it is still as much a verbal romp than an elegy.

This Idea Has People” uses the sestina's arbitrary but strict form to create seemingly random connections. The sestina is a precise instrument, in other words, toward a poem that courts imprecision, ending not where the poet demands that it end but where the language mandates it. Another way to say this might be in the conclusion to “Toward a Lingua Anglica,” where Shrader writes that “we deal in the language we're dealt.” And it deals with us. Everyone to whom I spoke about Shrader noted his exactitude, his precision at his work, whether as a painter, a photographer, or a graphic designer. His poems, too, are precise. Their precisions are formal, but the poems are also precise in their allusions, historical references, and their grounding in place(s). Yet it's not accident that he might call himself, or the author of his poems, “the imprecisionist.” In a world where “Every Day Is an Accident,” as the last poem here attests, “midpoints” are “shifting,” not fixed, and “time zones / . . . are rearranged each night by the wacky moon.” The central fulcrum of these poems, then, is the counter-weight of accident with what Elizabeth Bishop termed the “awful, but cheerful” untidiness of daily life.

But Shrader's poems belong to an actual Hawai`i, not the (mostly) imagined Hawai`i to which Ashbery alludes in his poem, “On First Listening To Schreker's Der Schatzgraber,” when he writes: “Now that you're in Honolulu you've got to live it up / no matter what kind of grub they throw at you on Main Street” (And the Stars Were Shining 58). They are often grounded as much in politics as in art and music. Shrader's journalism from the 1970s' Hawaii Observer centered on local politics and the foibles of politicians in informative, witty, ever observant articles. Shrader was possessed of a deft wit. Of one legislator in wrote in 1976: “Kunimura is a veteran—of the 442nd Infantry Regiment and of the Kauai Baord of Supervisors (1955-62)”. Of another: “Rep. Andrew Poepoe (R-25th / Aikahi-Enchanted Lakes) is the House minority leader and, as such, has guided his tiny band of Republicans to new heights of ineffectiveness.” This was the Hawai`i of the 1970s, where Republicans were as rare as nene geese, after all, and flew about as well. Finally—though the examples are legion, of John Medeiros (R. 25th Aikahi-Enchanted Lakes): “Medeiros's most conspicuous talents are those of a small-town raconteur and are a part of the personability which has allowed him to work quietly and inconspicuously toward his own limited ends—the foremost being the initiation and subsequent expansion of the school-security guard program.” The poems are less focused on persons than on images, ideas, the character of Shrader's inner world, but his wit emerges in the cryptography of his references, the exfoliation of meaning, the uncomfortable joining together of the New York School with this Waimanalo School of one. A local bumpersticker reads: “New York. London. Paris. Waimanalo.” It's not intended to be serious. But it's as if Shrader breathed real life into that knock-off phrase, plastered onto many a rusted old car on Oahu.

Included in a folder shown me by Shrader's ex-partner Maile Yawata, which contains the manuscript to “Opening the Triptych” is a brief essay on art history by Rebecca Solnit, published in LOST magazine in May, 2006. She writes about the significance of the color blue in 15th century art, especially the “blue of distance.” She notes that painters became interested in “the faraway in their art,” unlike earlier artists. Her second paragraph reads, in part: “Often the band of blue toward the horizon seems exaggerated: it extends too far forward, it is too abrupt a change in color, it is too blue, as though they were exulting in the phenomenon by overdoing it.” But anyone who has been to Waimanalo Beach knows that the blue of the Pacific and the blue of the sky are intenser there than they are elsewhere. There's no exaggeration to the turquoise blue, the blue blue sea, the sky blue on which clouds ride toward the Ko`olau mountains. So, to Solnit's conclusion that, “in this world we actually live in, distance ceases to be distance and to be blue when we arrive in it. The far becomes the near and they are not the same place,” Shrader might respond that the world we actually live in is that very world that is the “blue of distance.” His poetry, understated as it is, engages a world that others might consider “exaggerated,” “unreal.” But it was Shrader's real world, and it is ours. We have his poems to thank for seeing this world as it was to him, and might now be to us.

Shrader left “camera ready” manuscripts in the font he wished his books to be published in. The files, however, could not be opened, though we made numerous attempts to do so. So our designer, Allison Hanabusa, has tried to be faithful to Shrader's design. There were mistakes—typos, misspellings—throughout. I have corrected such mistakes as I thought undeliberate, leaving only those that struck me as possibly being puns. To title a book Arc of the Day and then to include a section called “Ark of the Day” might be error, or it might be intended. Both words work: “arc” as the geometrical shape that joins unlike objects, ideas, and “ark”as (fertile) refuge from the world. So both versions of arc/ark remain here.

In working on this project, I owe great debts to many of Shrader's friends and family, including his son Ben Shrader, Maile Yawata, Warren Iwasa, Grady Timmons, John Knox, Daphne Chu, and others. For their financial support, Tinfish thanks John Wythe White & Victoria Gail White's Left Wing Right Brain Fund of the Hawai`i Community Foundation, Victoria Nelson, Buzz Poverman, Ellen Robinson, and others.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New from Tinfish Press: Steve Shrader's _The Arc of the Day / The Imperfectionist_

Our website now has a page devoted to the new book by Steve Shrader. Shrader earned an MFA from Iowa in the late 1960s and moved to Hawai`i, where he worked as an English instructor at UHM, a journalist, and a graphic
designer. He lived on Waimānalo Beach for nearly 40 years.

Please distribute the link to everyone who might be interested. We're taking pre-orders, which help to pay the final bill, coming soon.

The book should arrive in the next two or three weeks to Tinfish and to I'll be on HPR's The Conversation tomorrow morning (Tuesday) to talk about it. Tune in if you can. There will be a launch later in the Fall, we hope, along with a gallery show of Shrader's photographs, some of which are included on the book's cover, designed by Allison Hanabusa.

Please see the website for a couple of poems from the book, as well as other information about it.

I blogged about Shrader's work in October 2011.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Conceptualism as affect: or, a defense of both at once

MOMA's poet laureate Kenny Goldsmith appeared on Stephen Colbert this week, dressed as a peppermint stick wearing a full beard, looking a little bit--come to think of it--like a pinker Mark Edmundson. As an outside resident of a certain stripe of the American poetry world, I know that the contemporary conflict between conceptualism and flarf determines a lot of what gets said about poems these days. As a resident of Hawai`i, I find this annoying, as that conversation seems so far away, so noisy in its insignificance to what goes on here. This conversation takes on increasing bandwith as it enters the abhorred and yet coveted mainstream (even if, as Colbert would point out, it's only the mainstream of basic cable). Recent take-downs of conceptualism have appeared in in Boston Review, in Lana Turner, and in The Rumpus. In his essay, "Against Conceptualism: Defending the Poetry of Affect," Cal Bedient writes about conceptualism as if it opposed life itself: much current poetry, he argues, "neglect[s] life values, which include a trembling web of receptivity, sharply interested observation, the ability to make instant adjustments, and organic developments within a constantly changing context, all properties as important to lyric poets as to cats." Kent Johnson and Amy King attack Conceptualism for attacking capitalism, even as its current practitioners use high level marketing techniques. Consider the suit. Johnson goes so far as to call Conceptualism "the right-wing poetic avant-garde." Amy King, noting that she and other poets often employ methods "trademarked" by flarf and conceptualism, writes: "I want to call attention to the claim these groups purport to block capitalism while intentionally employing capitalist techniques (i.e. media-style sensationalism to garner notice, sound-bite saturation, prolific self-referencing, reducing all other modes of subjective expression to exchangeable equivalences, etc.) to achieve and secure status within the capitalist structure. That structure rewards for adherence and perpetuation, regardless of proclaimed critique."

These attacks on conceptualism are smart, thorough, and persuasive. And yet how easy it is to neglect all the other "wings" of contemporary poetry, those that are determined by argument (feminist, anti-colonial), those that are determined by subject position (ethnic), and those that simply investigate language and world (zen, spiritual writing). But I don't want to set all these schools against one another. Nor do I want to attack Conceptualism, even when I harbor doubts about it in its pure form; printing out the internet strikes me more as a waste of paper than as a valuable project, for instance, even if old technologies like printers often become art. (This may be another way to say that I hereby renounce my claim to audience, as arguments pro or con are the coin of that realm.)  Let me do what I do when I edit Tinfish, namely enact a conversation between writers who otherwise seem to have nothing to do with one another. It occurs to me that my facebook news feed, which often displays odd moments of synchronicity, is telling me something. Lately, in among the links to attacks on conceptualism, I've been tracking the work of two fb friends who are writing dissertations, one on Hawaiian history (Ron Williams, Jr.) and the other whose M.A. thesis was on on mo'o (lizard) legends (Alohalani Brown). Something Alohalani wrote the other day suddenly resonates differently.

"I would happily spend the rest of my life gathering together installments of serialized moʻolelo in the Hawaiian newspapers and then typing them out as a way to acquaint myself with them. I just found another one that shows Kamehaʻikana as a moʻo, that makes three now. My list of moʻo is growing (155+) and the number moʻo on Oʻahu that I found in moʻolelo is now 60. Now to write out my prospectus for a possible manuscript on moʻo and see who would be interested."
That first sentence of her status line combines affect--"I would happily spend the rest of my life gathering together installments of serialized mo`olelo in the Hawaiian newspapers"--with what Goldsmith would consider a work of conceptual art--"and then typing them out as a way to acquaint myself with them." There is no separation in Alohalani Brown's mind between the act of copying (uncreative writing, as Goldsmith would call it) and the sensation of joy at discovering a hidden part of Hawaiian culture and history.  
That brings me back to Goldsmith and Stephen Colbert. Goldsmith was on the show to talk about his new book, Seven American Deaths and Disasters. Contra Marjorie Perloff's enthusiastic comment, "Seven Deaths is a real page-turner: you will feel you’re there, living through the horrific events as they unfold," Colbert went right after the version of Goldsmith's polemic that is intended to shock--the avant of his garde, in other words. "When I read this I feel like I'm some sort of time traveling aesthete who is coming in to sample other people's shock and tragedy. I'm tasting their disbelief and the way it's changing them forever... and it feels vampiric." Oddly, both these comments, the con and the pro, involve reactions to the book as an aesthetic event, one that has us turning pages, whether or not we want to.

One of the deaths and disasters is the John F. Kennedy assassination. That event was my first public memory; my mother told me at the door when I came home from kindergarten. Several years ago (it was probably on a significant, even-numbered anniversary) PBS replayed the entire day's television programming from November 22, 1963. I watched quite a bit of it; we'd not had a television in 1963, so I had no early visual memories of the event. The video itself contains no affect, of course, it's just streaming photographs. But I found myself feeling a lot of emotions, from shock to anxiety to sadness, as the newsmen (Huntley and Brinkley, were they?) found out that the president had been shot and then, later, that he had died. Of course I knew how the story ended. Of course I felt a bit like "a time traveling aesthete," except that what I was sampling was my own shock and sense of tragedy. This shock was at once memory (I had heard the news then) and something more than memory, something like an unfolding--in real time--of what has come to seem unreal over time.

Was PBS doing conceptual television? Was there a lack of affect? No, and no. PBS was presenting a document to its audience. The documentary was one that lacked voice-over, as voice-overs always emerge from out of the future of the event chronicled, and the past of the viewer/listener. It was like the skeleton to what would become a monster, an industry based on interpretations of the event. This document comes before interpretation. It's raw, and that's why it hurts so much, even now. How is this event, or this re-event, different from what Kenny Goldsmith is doing? I propose that it's not much different at all. Goldsmith is doing important historical retrieval, archival work in his presentation of these deaths and disasters by way of transcripts of radio shows that occurred when the fateful event took place. But he is not doing anything especially new or avant-garde. Like Alohalani Brown, Goldsmith enjoys recording the recording, retyping the newspaper, printing out what's on the internet. Like her, he is selective (in this case). Like her, what he finds evokes feeling, whether of shock, sorrow, or pride in a heritage that had seemed lost. What is at stake to each of them may be different, as Brown embarks on a recovery of Hawaiian mo`olelo, and Goldsmith is intrigued by how people talk when they experience American historical shock. But they both find emotion in the archive, and that is a not inconsiderable act. I've written elsewhere about trauma and the archive, in the context of Hawaiian history and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Emerson may have been right that poems are already out there. If they do not float in the air to be caught like butterflies, they live in our newspapers, our books, our YouTube videos, and in our daily lives. I do not see where Kenny Goldsmith ends and a documentary poet like Mark Nowak begins, or why historians like Brown and Williams, Jr. cannot be considered poet laureates of the Hawai`i State Archive. I find value in what each of them does. I feel what each of them does. I also want to read other kinds of poems, other documents, have other aesthetic and historical and cultural experiences. But I want them all, not just those that strike me as immediately significant. And I want them, not the contraption within which they are dressed up, like peppermint sticks or like any of the many -isms that we use to teach literature to our students. Anthologies of manifestos are as conceptual as manifestos themselves. And often they are less interesting than the particular works of art (original or copied) that inspire them. For all his peppermint shtick, I find Goldsmith and his polemics less interesting than the documents he's retrieved from the archive. I found his comments on Colbert to be more about finding the affect in our historical words (shock jocks trying to sort out 9/11 would be a fascinating test case) than about cleansing our palate of feeling. And I am especially taken by the joy I hear in the written voices of my friends in the archives.

The mo`o photograph is by Jonathan Morse; more can be found here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hyper-cognition & empathy in "Alzheimer's horror" movies

While doing research for a talk on Alzheimer's, aliens and the avant-garde, I ran across a phrase that aptly describes our culture's values as "hyper-cognitive." How otherwise could we be living in the age of what Charlie Jane Anders calls "Alzheimer's horror." According to Anders, "it's the ultimate terror: The number of people with Alzheimer's and other age-related dementia will double in the next 20 years . . . And we're starting to get more horrific tales about forgetting, or people losing their personalities."

But if "hyper-cognition" is a must for humans, those who need to be "productive members of society," part of the horror in some Alzheimer's movies is what happens when animals tested with anti-Alzheimer's drugs get too smart for their species. Their intelligence breeds anger, and their anger causes them to lash out at their hyper-cognitive scientific masters. At least this is the case in two movies I watched recently, Deep Blue Sea (1999), and the far better Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). In the first, it's sharks that get too smart, and in the second apes. In both, humans get what's coming to them.

In both films, scientists are on the trail of drugs that will cure Alzheimer's. When these drugs are injected into animal-subjects, the animals get really smart. So smart, in fact, that the central ape in Rise begins to speak rudimentary English. At the end of the film (a clear set-up for the next) he whispers in the ear of James Franco (who else?) that he "is home" in the Redwoods outside of San Francisco, which is reeling from an incredible ape/man battle on the Golden Gate Bridge.

I'm not big on inter-species warfare. In fact, the ape movie lost me when the real action started. I was more taken by early scenes in the movie, where the scientist's father, played by John Lithgow, suffers Alzheimer's. He acts out, like a demented man (or perhaps like an ape in a strange place) by destroying his room, by threatening his caregiver. He wanders in his pajamas, ends up destroying several cars when he tries to drive away, an event that triggers the ape, Caesar's, incarceration in primate prison. But before this happens, a beautiful moment occurs between Alzheimer's sufferer and hyper-cognitive (for an ape) Caesar. It occurs at the dinner table, which is but one of the sites where Alzheimer's manifests itself. One of the primary symptoms is a person's inability to use tools. Alzheimer's sufferers, in other words, become more like apes. People forget how to use their forks and spoons and knives, or they use them in eccentric ways.

At the family table in the movie are the scientist Will (Franco), the chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the father, Charles (John Lithgow). Charles cannot handle his fork, approaches his plate tentatively with his instrument held backwards. While making eye contact with Will, Caesar reaches over gently and turns the fork around so that Charles can feed himself. This scene would have been moving were it to take place between human beings, but is perhaps more so when the teacher is a chimpanzee and the student an old man who used to teach piano (he knew how to use his hands, in other words).  The scene is not so much about intelligence or the ability to manipulate tools, however, as it is about empathy. Inter-species empathy is a beautiful thing. I remember when we adopted our daughter, who was three years old at the time, that she would cry at night; our old cat, Jon Stewart (another story, indeed) would approach her as if to console her. It made matters worse, as she was afraid of the cat, but his actions clearly came of fellow-feeling, concern in response to another animal's cries. So it's hardly science fiction alone that makes Caesar an empathetic character. As Lithgow puts it, "There is this tenderness where Caesar is more capable than the old man. And there is a grain of plausibility there."

The plausible, then, is what moves us. While the human being has been reduced to the level of the ape, the ape is the creature that is most humane. The plausible has less to do with cognition than with feeling. If we associate memory with cognition, forgetfulness with low intelligence, then this film gives us access to the felt idea that our hierarchy is mistaken. As Stephen G. Post argued in 1995, "The value of a human being is not diminished by forgetfulness; we must assume equal moral seating and awaken a new beneficence toward those who can no longer remember." He extrapolates from there: "A common philosophical-existential emphasis on the self's 'authenticity,' defined as a consistent set of values and sense of self over an extended period of time, excludes those whose self in increasingly fragmented and scattered."

These films, one better than the other, show us that there is as much horror in hyper-cognition as in low cognition. If the ostensible horror lies in a shark's being too smart, then an able reader of the film can see that a deeper horror lies in the way humans have treated the shark (there's an under-the-surface-animal-rights angle to both these films). The important moment in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in this reading of it, is a lesson for writers of Alzheimer's. As G. Thomas Couser writes in "Paradigms' Cost: Representing Vulnerable Subjects," "the subjects of ethnography must be Other, but should not be othered; they may be represented as different but not alien."

Here is the abstract to the talk I'm working on. I haven't entirely held to it, but the main ideas remain. Catherine Malabou's thinking about Alzheimer's has been especially helpful to me in revising my own ideas about writing Alzheimer's over the last several months.

Alzheimer's, Aliens, and the Cure of the Avant-garde

In What Should We Do With OurBrain?, philosopher Catherine Malabou argues that “any vision of the brain is necessarily political” (52). She distinguishes between “flexibility” and “plasticity,” between an identity favored by capitalism (think “flex-time,” “flexible labor”) and one that resists such flexibility by way of “plasticity.” According to Malabou, “plasticity” (from the French “plastique,” or explosive) is creative, even when it emerges from destruction. “An Alzheimer's patient,” she writes, “is the nemesis of connectionist society, the counter-model of flexibility. He is presented as a disaffiliated person: errant, without memory, asocial, without recourse.” As such, he can be compared to the homeless, illegal immigrants, or unemployed persons. All of these persons are wanderers, border-crossers, and are considered threats to stable notions of national or individual identity. I will discuss the ways in which Malabou's comparison works, in particular how the word “alien” comes to identify, and connect, the world of Alzheimer's with that of science fiction and contemporary American politics. 
I will argue that experimental writing both describes the “flexible” world and in some ways intervenes in it, proposing a “plastic” alternative. By doing critical readings of B.S. Johnson's House Mother Normal and other experimental texts on Alzheimer's, as well as of projects that bring art into Alzheimer's homes, I will show how experimental boundary-crossings not only describe the world of the Alzheimer's sufferer, but permit entry to the “home” by those not privy to the key, or the combination to open the doors themselves. The Alzheimer's home's “flexibility” (many are owned and operated by large corporations) can thus be resisted by the “plasticity” of art. The Alzheimer's patient's perceived rigidity can, then, be seen as (at least) an opening to social plasticity, to a sense of identities as plastic, fluid, wandered unattached to notions of the self that demand its “flexibility.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Video! Two Counterpath Events in June: Tinfish Press & Singing Horse Press

Counterpath has a wonderful space in Denver, right near the corner where the bus to Mexico stops. They host readings by presses. As the editor of a press who wishes everyone could buy all of our titles, the better to understand our press's argument, I love this practice. In June I was there with several Tinfish authors (Margo Berdeshevsky, Ya-Wen Ho, Janna Plant, Eric Paul Shaffer, and Maged Zaher) to launch Jack London is Dead: Euro-American Poetry of Hawai`i (and some stories), as well as the new volumes by Ya-Wen and MagedYou can watch the reading here.

Singing Horse Press was featured the next evening (watch video here). Paul Naylor, Andrew Schelling, and I read from our work. If you wonder why my reading starts with music going on, that was deliberate--I was reading from work that takes place in an Alzheimer's home, so I asked the Counterpath person to play some Frank Sinatra in the the background.

I'm very grateful to Counterpath (especially to Julie Carr, Michael Flatt, Ariella Ruth), not only for sharing their space with all of us--and with so many other presses--but also for preserving a record of our having been there to read. They also publish amazing books. My favorite has been Jonathan Stalling's Yinglishi,  but there's a whole catalogue of wonders.

l-r: Maged Zaher, Susan M. Schultz, Janna Plant, K. Lorraine Graham (guest!), and Margo Berdeshevky, after the reading. Photo by Ya-Wen Ho. Missing: Eric Paul Shaffer.

Design for all the Tinfish books launched is by Allison Hanabusa.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thank You for the Window Office / Home by Dark: traipsing alongside Maged Zaher & Pam Brown

I've been reading Rebecca Solnit's book about walking, learning to distinguish between the walking of aristocrats and the walking of workers, and to see in Wordsworth the poet who empathized with ordinary people by way of his purposeful strides. The way we walk, or more particularly our reasons for walking, are themselves a language. My wander through her book has brought me to the Romantics, but not as far as Frank O'Hara (is he in this book?) and his brisk urban(e) walks through Manhattan. I remember asking a student this past semester why he thought O'Hara's lunch poems were all accurate to what had happened to O'Hara on any given walk. Why assume that they're non-fiction poems, as opposed to poems whose lines matter more than steps? I realized, as I asked, that I too had made that assumption about the truth of O'Hara's walks.

It's Frank O'Hara on the telephone that appears in Pam Brown's new book, Home By Dark--the telephone you can see him on, even as he types a poem, on a youtube video--not on one of his urban gallops. She's writing a poem to Gig Ryan, starting from the telephone.  (See O'Hara's "Personism" on poems as phone calls.) And her poem, "In my phone," is indeed about poems: "in a poetry world / everything is providential, / or not, / and / sometimes, / just life on hold, call waiting," though very little in Pam Brown's poetry waits. It's kinetic, her mind skipping like her lines across the page, quickly, an eye to the world's scatter and ear to its white noise. Her poem walks are loopy; they come back around. Maged Zaher's new Ugly Duckling book, Thank You for the Window Office, also includes O'Hara, while charting a history of the past 40-50 years that offers new meaning to the walk:

In the middle of the acquisition meeting
I thought of Frank O'Hara walking New York streets
My lunch poems were composed over Chinese take out
While we decided whom to fire

In the window office of Zaher's software corporation, there is no longer a lunch hour in which to play flaneur. There is no break between work and walk. The lucky ones sit; the less lucky will walk. There is only a business meeting, and the question of who will walk, take a hike, lose their jobs. Walking on the street outside that office means walking away from a living wage and literally and figuratively to be "on the street." No window to one's soul this window, but (as the cover image shows us) a window from which to jump. Jumping is not walking, is more violent, more sudden, thought-shattering rather than meditative (to put it mildly).

One of Tinfish's plum chapbooks was a collaboration between Pam Brown of Sydney and Maged Zaher of Seattle/Cairo. You can read the story behind their chapbook here.  (Tinfish Press also published a book by Zaher tout seul, here.) Despite the distances between their cities and their Englishes, they wrote poems so seamless that no one could tell whose voice was whose. Uncanny collaboration. It made sense, however, as they are both poetic kids of O'Hara, both urban poets, both write in the demotic, and both cast sharply ironic eyes at the daily worlds they inhabit. Brown wrote from her station at the library where she worked, Zaher from his software corporation. If O'Hara's walks on the concrete of Manhattan turned his mind to matters of art and friendship, Brown's and Zaher's walks can be said to be like his. And, if O'Hara commented on the civil rights movement and on being a gay man, then Brown and Zaher are also walking in their own time.

What is this time? It's one where metaphors get coopted as method. Hence, the time well spent on a walk now returns the metaphor to the literal "spending" that consumerist culture insists upon. In Brown's "Opportunities," she turns to the language of surfing the web:

Sitting duck
     in Toodyay

add to cart

Lost toy panda
     by the roadside

add to cart

Digital creature,

add to cart

and so forth. That "lost toy panda," at once adorable and missing to a small child, might evoke pity were it not so quickly added to the cart, a cart that suggests our very observational empathies are best described as planned purchases. The cart is the shopper's purgatory; she can still change her mind, but the consumable is there (somewhere) to be paid for.  We don't see the warehouse, and we don't feel the sore knees and backs of the workers, but we sense the aura of the object, and we want it. The very past cannot be remembered as before: "I can't google-map my past," she writes in "Windows wound down," "where we lived is classified." Classified as in secreted away by google, or classified as in up for sale, little difference.

If Brown renders "add to cart" poetic--the line is biting but it's also funny--then Zaher renders poetry into bitter reality. In a poem that includes the line, "Because it is time to save civilization," he continues:

One iPhone user at a time
Historical materialists of Cairo unite
And let us partake in the power of the masses
I saw the great minds of my generation working
For Microsoft and Boeing to be laid off later
Like dogs

How far we've moved from Wordsworth's similes to Zaher's "like a dog." His is a cliche, but it does not feel like one in this poem. This is not a poem about historical materialism in the philosophical sense but in the consumable one. "And these are the masses--they buy the stuff the leaders create," he writes near the top. In this context, "the power of the masses" is a dubious force, at best, like that of the crowds in Cairo that overturned one dictator only to suffer under another, and who are gathering once again as I write. No wonder he writes on another page, "I am tired of history / I am tired of this poem."

"Romanticism was something to brag about," notes Zaher and, while both poets emerge from the Romantic tradition, they find they have less to brag about. All that keeps them from the bitter is (if not wine, then) wit. Both poets have the ability to write punch lines, sometimes at the end of a poem ("One more poem about police brutality," writes Zaher,  "Thank you for the opportunity to join the subculture") and sometimes not: "recessions don't stop / for Sunday" (Brown). And while neither poet is a symbolist, they have each arrived at their primary vehicle to deliver these messages about the ravages of capital and destructiveness, namely the United States. Brown's poems about traveling to the United States are some of the darkest in her book. "No worries" begins with the haunting lines, "flat out, too tired to die" and records new world factoids, like "tumbling economies" reported on CNN and panhandlers and exhortations to "live better" that only make the poet feel worse. In the poem after, she notes the evil of US drones, the black derricks of oil rigs in LA and tree clearing for better tourist vistas.

Zaher in his software office informs us

They selected me to die
I am proud though of the design I left on the whiteboard
And as I am close enough to heaven
It is time to remove this sentence

This is nearly Dickinsonian in it double-entendres (dying as being laid off; the whiteboard written on by a man of color; the sentence that is at once linguistic and legal). It might also serve as the eulogy to an expectation of steady employment in the late 20th century. It's a Romantic poem of sorts, but also a Trojan horse. Inside the horse is the empty office, not empty and Transcendental, but empty and lacking a pay check. No mistake that Zaher's lines, while vernacular and slangy, are not casual. They walk across the page like caged animals, pacing forward and then forward again, never past the ragged right margin that keeps beckoning them. He never ends his lines with punctuation, except for a couple of question marks. I'm tempted (it's so funny) to compare them to Merwin's unpunctuated poems, except that Zaher's do not breeze correspondingly from line to line, but seem instead to fall. There's a jarring at the end of his lines, as if enjambment were less a right turn than a wall to be schepped over, fallen off of. It doesn't mend, it scars.

The political content of these books is compelling. So too are the old provinces of the lyric, love, sex, and dying. Zaher's poetry is often about desire, sexual desire, though it's not thought through, and there are no flowers in it. Brown's poetry, in this book more than in her others, is about illness and aging. In fits and starts, amid and between her more political thoughts, she writes lines like these:

Leaving the World

is not as bad
as you'd think

the grand movement
the small movement,
you pull your swifty
and disappear

I'm not persuaded that my Urban Dictionary has informed me what "swifty" means in this context, but the "is not as bad / as you'd think" is as moving as it is casual. Many of the details include memories of past lovers, other layers of personal history, and then there's this: "mid april / & / the xmas wreath / is still pinned / to the front door / of the neighbour / who died / on boxing day" These lines acknowledge a refusal that has earned the poet's empathy. It might be irony, but then again it is not.


Pam Brown at Michelle Leggott's house, Auckland, 2012.

Maged Zaher at Coors Field, Denver, June, 2013. Rockies 10-Padres 9, on a walk-off homer by the rookie third baseman.

NOTE: as I finish this post, Maged puts this on his facebook status line. He is writing a nearly moment-by-moment account of events in Egypt.
The US is currently supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the wrong move. You can't turn around, execute bad policies against the will of a whole people then complain that you can't do business with them. Please write to your congress representative that you don't want the US supporting the Muslim Brotherhood not just because of their horrible record on freedom and on women but because it is the wrong move for the US interests.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Newish Paragraph: or what's with all these chunks of print?

This past AWP in Boston I hardly grazed the thousand or so tables of other press's books; my lungs were too full of phlegm for that. But when I finally did take a brief walk, casually opening a book here and there, I wondered, "What's with all these books full of paragraphs?" And I don't mean paragraphs that nestle up against one another, paragraphs that cuddle. I mean blocks of text that float as quasi-islands on their pages, blocks defined as much by the white space between them as by their own coherence. So, because I have a hunch that paragraphs, even when they're numbered in sequence, provide an exaggerated chance for randomness (that is not one), I'm going to take several texts written in what I will (tongue in cheekily) called The Newish Paragraph, and weave them together by process of random selection. First the texts, among which I include one of my own. For vested interest is mine; or, we see best what we already recognize.

55. The presumption is: I can write like this and "get away with it."  Ron Silliman, "The Chinese Notebook."

Random access memory. Trunk of a tree or block of wood. The plank in reason. Rationales for "exclusionary criteria": as if fact mitigates fact. If your body is obese, it will not fit in our storage area. Or: "the anatomical relations are altered." No alteration where alteration found. Donne was a nasty poet, Ben notes. Ambition is as ambition does. Has nothing to do with flies, but with aggression. "The point is not to suppress your anger, but to watch it and let it go," writes the Motocycliste on Daily Kos.  Susan M. Schultz, "She's Welcome to Her Disease": Dementia Blog, Volume Two.

125. Of course, you could also just take off the blindfold and say, I think this game is stupid, and I'm not playing it anymore. And it must also be admitted that hitting the wall or wandering off in the wrong direction or tearing off the blindfold is as much a part of the game as is pinning the tail on the donkey.  Maggie Nelson, Bluets.

Rick Moody may or may not be the worst writer of his generation, but he is certainly not the worst italicizer of his generation. Evan Lavender-Smith, From Old Notebooks.

Earth is wandering. Moon's round eye dreaming. The fields are on fire. We're entering the heart of strangeness.  Etal Adnan, Sea and Fog.

I don't know how strange this heart is, but the question, "what is it?" comes to mind, just as the civil defense siren goes off, it being the first day of the new month, and near noon. Nothing has broken--this is not a new form, nor is it a new concept or a take-down of old ones like flarf or an ethnically defined project--and nothing new has been constructed. The paragraph is not avant-garde, nor is it rear-guard. It's in the middle of the caravan. One presumes there have always been paragraphs. Nor has the paragraph been redesigned, re-formed. The OED definition seems obvious, downright dull: "A distinct passage or section of a text, usually composed of several sentences, dealing with a particular point." Same thing as it was in 1525.

One clue is that I can't read any of these books without wandering, without jumping. Bryant has an old video made by an off-road unicyclist in Alaska. (Oh my god, it's here!) We once spent an hysterical evening with poets watching this video, which was like a poetics of unicycling. The man was humorless. He had a large and faithful dog. His day consisted of getting on his unicycle and taking wooded paths. So he jumped from rock to rock, then peddled when he could toward the next field of rocks. As he did so, the voice-over instructed us in how to do this ourselves. It was also like a Buddhist talk, where examples of difficulty are juxtaposed with episodes of calm. And where there are lots of rocks.

Paragraphs are like these rocks. Except that we don't have to follow the path in linear fashion.

Or: paragraphs are like those moments of recognition: I could jump to that large flat rock, though the edgy one might work better and more quickly, if I do it right.

Or: paragraphs are what make us fall down. A single paragraph can be very funny, a joke like the rock that's covered in water, on which your single tire slips.

Or: paragraphs can be like the big dog. They can follow you faithfully, or you can walk next to them and hum under your breath. You can take breathers between rock-like paragraphs. You can write your own words there, or compose your own lyrics.

Another clue is that these paragraphs all contain opinions. Rick Moody may be but is not.  I can get away with this. I can wax philosophical and you can stay with me for one paragraph. I can offer you a detail and then offer you an abstraction and then the waitress will come and you can choose which number you wish to order on the Chinese menu (yes, Silliman's Chinese Notebook has numbers, just like many Chinese menus).

But you can't stick with the opinion. There is no development, at least not right away. We are on a road that is also a white water course that is also a jet stream. We may be heading in the same direction, but we're not going to get there at the same time, even if it's just us. The paragraph before Rick Moody had to do with UPS. The paragraph before the blindfold game had to do with the Spirit Book, and with suffering. The paragraph after Silliman's assertion is about worsening economic conditions, which are another way of saying you can't get away with what you can't afford.

Yet another clue is how much quotation is going on in these quotations. To italicize is to quote, so Rick Moody may not be a great writer, but he's a damn good compiler. He lays bricks. You might say the game is stupid, but you include it anyway, because you might be quoting someone other than yourself.  Peek-a-boo, it might be me saying it, too! Daily Kos's motocycliste is quoting a Buddhist text, but his audience must needs be different. My paragraph quotes from the Georgetown University guidelines for body donations. But alternates them with Renaissance truisms. (Don't ask me to parse that one!)

But the Modernists quoted, and the post-modernists deconstructed, and everyone italicizes! That gets me to what might be newish about the newish paragraph, that it synthesizes. If Movements tend toward purity, even in their lack thereof, manifestos being pure blurts of rhetorical extravagance, then non-movements like the newish paragraph are more quietly impure. These are not new sentences, because there's no torque between sentences, and because there's an implied coherence between paragraphs. If Maggie Nelson is thinking about anything, it's the color blue, which re-emerges on every page of her book. If I'm thinking about Alzheimer's then, damn it, I'm not leaving that field for anything like gardening. If Evan Lavender-Smith is giving us his apercus, then so be it, they just keep coming.

This is more manifest than manifesto. There's a list of passenger writers, but nowhere in particular to go. That may be the perfect form for now. For the form permits wandering, but it also (like the Alzheimer's home) offers a fence, a circular walk, a way to return over and again to where you started. There's a sense that paragraphs, especially when they're numbered, gesture to philosophical investigations. Something about how you use your paragraphs, as opposed to what they mean. Something about form as loose swaddling rather than fence-work.

I feel very much as if I've said very little. Perhaps that's really the case. But the paragraph is sneaky that way. It's very non-descript, hard to pin down, not as hard to write as a villanelle or a sestina, though like them it can come around again. It's like the house you can't see from the road, the one whose inner architecture might be splendid. The inner parts of my brief tour of the paragraph may be as plain as the paragraph's form itself. But the books from which I've taken my examples are not. They range--they free range--they live within an open field but don't require the visual art of the open field poem. They contain the breath, at least until they're spoken.