April 20, 2015
Disparate number 18
Between 1815 and 1823
Francisco de Goya
The Before Unapprehended
Somehow, though, this seems awfully familiar.
No, I’m not less bothered by his absence than you, brother. How could I be? We were eleven and now we are ten, and yet there is no body, none of us can name the one who’s missing, and what must all of that mean? This silence worries us equally. Or, no, not quite equally: I think we all now agree my verses were next. If anyone should want this lonesome rest to break, it’s me; I mean, if I can’t claim a deeper anguish at brother’s disappearance, I can add to it the anxiety of not knowing what to say. The bodies of our departed brothers will only get heavier the more steps we take, and though we all share that burden, how many steps we all take under it—at least for the moment—is up to me. Glass houses, brother.
I agree: We probably ought to go back to the beginning. At least then we would know where we were. But the first verses escape me. I think I have them right in my mind, but when I try to speak them out loud, my throat dries up and then my mind looses them from their tether. Every time! Let someone else speak them. No? Surely someone still remembers the beginning? I mean the very first verse? Not even the brother who recited it back when we started out this season? No? No one. Then, please, let me speak a while. If, somewhere along the way, any of you remembers that verse, let him recite it, but until then, bear with me. At worst, we’ll keep climbing until someone remembers the words, and then we’ll end up where we end up every season, at the opening, on the plain. A little worse for wear, true, a little more exhausted, but such is life. At best, we’ll follow the one who’s missing to some other place.
Once set down on paper, each fragment of memory . . . becomes, in fact, inaccessible to me. This probably doesn’t mean that the record of memory, located under my skull, in the neurons, has disappeared, but everything happens as if a transference had occurred, something in the nature of a translation, with the result that ever since, the words composing the black lines of my transcription interpose themselves between the record of memory and myself, and in the long run completely supplant it.
Simultaneously, my recollections grow dull. To conceptualize this fact, I use the image of evaporation, of ink drying; or else water on a pebble from the sea, the sun leaving behind its dulling mark, the salt film. The recollection’s emotion has disappeared. Occasionally, if what I have written in explanation satisfies me (later, on rereading), a second induced emotion, whose origin is the lines themselves in their minute, black succession, their visible thinness, procures for me a semblance of a simulacrum of the original emotion, now grown remote, unapproachable. But this emotion does not recur, even in lesser form.
Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London
quoted in from madeleine e.
Die Alaunstraße in Dresden
b. April 18, 1884
Gabriel Blackwell and the Legacy of Metafiction
Blackwell's larger point, it seems, is that, at a structural level, all narrative is a kind of paranoia.
Joe Milazzo reads Gabriel Blackwell's Critique of Pure Reason
... surely Blackwell, who is much more meticulous in his playfulness, knows that the post-modern moment has passed? Post-modernism is now just another commodity in the nostalgia market; it has depreciated into an image that cycles through countless Tumblr feeds for its quaintness value. Post-modernism is now nothing more or less than decor, a reference to a collective memory of the falsity of collective experience nooked and crannied into our so-called intellectual life like the Stratocasters and “Run Forrest Run” bumper stickers and velvet paintings and dazzlingly crappy Americana hodge-podged on the walls of a TGIFridays.
So why care about the post-modern triumphs of metafiction, and why revive it? These questions, as well as the question of what Critique of Pure Reason does differently with the tropes of metafiction, cannot be separated from the question of why we take our entertainment so seriously, and why we declare—and not without some Gollum-like voracity; witness the live-Tweet apocalypse that was the minutes following Game of Thrones‘ infamous “Red Wedding” episode—ownership of what can never be our exclusive property. In its day, metafiction was viewed as an elitist enterprise, one that required a certain class of reader, and, in all fairness, it was and it did. Metafiction was elitist in the way that the generation that came of age in the late 60s and early 70s remains elite: by means of a supremely confident, consistent and inflexible exercise of their narcissism. The metafictions produced by DeLillo, Pynchon, Gass (who coined the term) et al. aimed to separate the dross and shibboleths of a previous generation’s definitions of orderly life from new ideas of lasting value via stories that were Baroque with a hipped-up self-awareness. Metafiction’s vogue was as much an expression of that Boomer pursuit of higher consciousness as it was of reflective of the opening up of the American novel to Continental influences. Metafiction was also therapeutic, in its own way, its mechanics serving as an exorcism of that Conspiracy that through multiple assassinations and Vietnam and Watergate had posited itself as the Maxwell’s Demon of recent history. Readers of metafiction could indulge in a double appreciation. First, readers could entertain and be entertained by an articulation of their own doubts about the reliability of any reality whose apparency was confirmed via mediation. Secondly, by outlasting the convolutions of metafiction and assuming a position from which they could substitute one’s own convolutions within the story, readers could, in effect, narrate to themselves, “Now I see what I am not to believe, and how.” Not without reason was some of the best metafiction written during its period of ascendance overtly political.
Like the other persons we encounter in this book’s pages, and whether we belong there in those pages or not, we exist in a realm suspended between fiction and reality. Yet neither is home for us. It doesn’t really matter, either, if the domains of fiction and reality overlap or dissolve into each other or create a million new Big Bangs every time their proximities cross their streams. Their between-ness and ours is never annulled, only sustained by its weirdly boundless singularity. Far from debunking metafiction by aping it, Critique of Pure Reason seeks to turn the engine of its perspicacities on that sense of exception it cultivated, then allowed to grow out-of-control. The volume’s final words come from, or are attributed to, Pauline Kael’s review of a pre-Blue Velvet Dino De Laurentis’ 1976 instant-punchline remake of King Kong—as mythic a movie as has ever been made. “It’s a joke that can make you cry.” The same can be said for what metafiction, at one time, could have been. Happily, rather than lament, this Critique of Pure Reason goes about its work, and its possibilities are still possible.
Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia
b. April 15, 1904
Whether I’d seen them with, so to speak, my own eyes,
was not the point. I may have filed some false reports,
but I’d seen plenty. Many nights they summoned me
in their fraudulent Rapture, discriminating not between
creatures and objects lifted equally into unbelonging
and returned with forms, that is, spirits,
broken. Before the world destroys us, it confirms
our suspicions. And so I kept my incredulity at the irreparable
local disdain for storm cellars to myself, investing instead
in quasi-religious superstition and my firstborn birthright
of being consistently wrong. As atmospheric hydraulics
once more engaged and the home acre prepared to revolve
like a sickening restaurant, as the grain’s hairs stood
on end and rope ladders descended from the gospels’
green windows, my mother, in the manner of someone
who believes wholeheartedly in God’s love and its profound
uselessness, said we’d take our chances in the basement.
The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out
For decades, John Ashbery has shown us how to be non-heroic (which hasn’t stopped us from pedestalizing him…). There is something both Ashberian and non-Ashberian about Solie. Like him, she writes sentences in motley registers that accrete into poems with unpredictable logopoieic shapes. Their sentences are similarly centrifugal, though hers are never taken to the dissociative extremes his are. He sounds like a radio on scan; she sounds like she’s talking and driving ...
Pierre Gain en élève studieux_______________________
via Nag on the Lake
ALL THAT IS CERTAIN IS NIGHT LASTS LONGER THAN THE DAYKaren Solie at Poetry International
Look at your past, how it’s grown.
You’ve known it since it was yea high. Still, you,
as you stand now, have never been there. Parts worn out,
renewed, replaced. Though you may bear the same name.
You’re like the joke about the axe.
In time you’ve learned that to behave badly isn’t
necessarily to behave out of character. To thine own self
be true. In script above the nation’s chalkboards,
the nation’s talkshows. And not a great idea,
depending. It’s too much for you, I know.
One day your life will be a lake in the high country
no one will ever see, and it will also be the animals
of that place. Its figures indistinguishable from ground.
All of time will flow into it.
Leave the child you were alone. The wish to comfort her
is a desire to be comforted. Would you have
her recognize herself buried alive
in the memories of a stranger? Avoideth the backroads,
doublewides of friends, and friends of friends. . . .
Some of what you would warn against
has not yet entered her vernacular.
She travels unerringly toward you, as if you are the North.
Between you, a valley has opened.
In this valley a river,
on this river an obscuring mist.
A mist not unlike it walks the morning streets, comments on
the distinction of Ottawa from Hull, Buda
from Pest, what used to be Estuary from what used to be
Empress and the ferry that once ran between them.
The Poetic World of Karen Solie
Jon Eben Field
Solie knows that language is not adequate to experience and perception. This lack between experience and articulation creates a “mourning in the use of language.” Although this mourning can emphasize the inadequacy of words, for her, this gap is fruitful as a source of inspiration. Using this inspiration grounds her poems in the precision of naming; naming the complexity and intensity of experience creates a generative power. For Solie, “there's a poetry to the names that people give things” largely because “we are metaphorical creatures.”
Solie uses her words to point out the representational crisis at the limit of language. She is acutely aware of language's fey shadow, that unnameable space where the poet exists with and without words. Poetry reviews, revitalizes and recreates the world. We can learn to see the world differently, time and time again through poems. She understands that poetry “allows us to notice things and to think about their complications and their implications.”
Solie is fascinated with the intersections of probability, determinism and fate. She sculpts the waves of determined reactions that arise from action and choice into poetic friezes. She is intuitively, spiritually and mathematically engaged with the “old split, which is sort of artificial to [her] mind, between free will and determinism.” We are both drawn to and thrown into this poetic world. We are free to explore our lives and thrown like flotsam and jetsam into the vast ocean of life's consequences.
Solie's uses language to point out what is passed over, forgotten and lost. And in that gesture we become aware of the abundance that is and is not on the page. Reading poetry requires a type of double-vision. If we are lucky, the words of the poem open up a space for us to inhabit a verbal texture. But this interior world of the poem only makes sense when understood next to the world within which we live, breathe, eat, sleep, drink, speak and write. But how can she accomplish this? In her words, the gesture is completed by “throwing one's mind outside the page.”
Poetry matters. There are songs I've always believed poets could hear above, below, beyond or, perhaps more accurately, within the din of ordinary life. In that belief, I've looked for poetry that hears and responds to what would otherwise lie hidden in the world. Karen Solie's poetry matters because it sings an eloquent version of this song about life, landscape and language.
April 14, 2015
1940 - 2015
“My great fear is that we are all suffering from amnesia. I wrote to recover the memory of the human rainbow, which is in danger of being mutilated.”
Eduardo Galeano’s Words Walk the Streets of a Continent
During Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis, Galeano’s words walked down the streets with a life of their own, accompanying every protest and activist meeting. Factories were occupied by workers, neighborhood assemblies rose up, and, for a time, revolutionary talk and action replaced a rotten neoliberal system. Galeano’s upside-down view of the world blew fresh dreams into the tear gas-filled air.
In the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, pirated copies of Galeano’s classic Open Veins of Latin America are still sold at nearly every book stall. There too, Galeano’s historical alchemy added to the fire of many movements and uprisings, where miners of the country’s open veins tossed dynamite at right-wing politicians, and the 500-year-old memory of colonialism lives on.
With the small mountain of books and articles he left behind, Galeano gives us a language of hope, a way feel to feel rage toward the world while also loving it, a way to understand the past while carving out a better possible future.
“She’s on the horizon,” Galeano once wrote of utopia. “I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.”
Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt
b. April 13, 1878
'Extraordinary experience will not be locatable'
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is perhaps the closest thing canonical American literature has to a “sacred language.” In Robert Duncan’s lectures on Dickinson, we could say that he posits her as the ultimate untranslatable poet, even within her own language. In her poems she “bring[s] us to the line where everything is so fraught with meaning that we can’t find the meaning.” And so, even in a casual reading of her there is a dogged engagement with the translational sublime, performed with more or less sensitivity, because she is meaning something (Duncan is at pains to distinguish her gnomic utterances from the more postmodern disjunctions of language poetry), even if that something is a nothing that is legible. If the possibility of translation is assured by some structure of commonalities that all languages negotiate, these commonplaces are confounded in her Amherst garden. “Extraordinary experience will not be locatable,” Duncan says, and in particular extends the enigma of Dickinson’s work and its untranslatability to her sexual experiences with other women, which only could have been experienced through clear, positivistic, and communicative language in a cultural context that could readily explain them, or explain them away.
d. April 13, 1966
Texts for Nothing #4
b. April 13, 1906
... What am I doing, talking, having my figments talk, it can only be me. Spells of silence too, when I listen, and hear the local sounds, the world sounds, see what an effort I make, to be reasonable. There's my life, why not, it is one, if you like, if you must, I don't say no, this evening. There has to be one, it seems, once there is speech, no need of a story, a story is not compulsory, just a life, that's the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough. I'm making progress, it was time, I'll learn to keep my foul mouth shut before I'm done, if nothing foreseen crops up. ... To breathe is all that is required, there is no obligation to ramble, or receive company, you may even believe yourself dead on condition you make no bones about it, what more liberal regimen could be imagined, I don't know, I don't imagine. No pomt under such circumstances in saying I am somewhere else, someone else, such as I am I have all I need to hand, for to do what, I don't know, all I have to do, there I am on my own again at last, what a relief that must be. Yes, there are moments, like this moment, when I seem almost restored to the feasible. Then it goes, all goes, and I'm far again, with a far story again, I wait for me afar for my story to begin, to end, and again this voice cannot be mine. That's where I'd go, if I could go, that's who I'd be, if I could be. ... No pomt under such circumstances in saying I am somewhere else, someone else, such as I am I have all I need to hand, for to do what, I don't know, all I have to do, there I am on my own again at last, what a relief that must be. Yes, there are moments, like this moment, when I seem almost restored to the feasible. Then it goes, all goes, and I'm far again, with a far story again, I wait for me afar for my story to begin, to end, and again this voice cannot be mine. That's where I'd go, if I could go, that's who I'd be, if I could be. ...
b. April 13, 1906
As one in his right mind when at last out again he knew not how he was not long out again when he began to wonder if he was in his right mind. For could one not in his right mind be reasonably said to wonder if he was in his right mind and bring what is more his remains of reason to bear on this perplexity in the way he must be said to do if he is to be said at all? It was therefore in the guise of a more or less reasonable being that he emerged at last he knew not how into the outer world and had not been there for more than six or seven hours by the clock when he could not but begin to wonder if he was in his right mind. By the same clock whose strokes were heard times without number in his confinement as it struck the hours and half-hours and so in a sense at first a source of reassurance till finally one of alarm as being no clearer now than when in principle muffled by his four walls. Then he sought help in the thought of one hastening westward at sundown to obtain a better view of Venus and found it of none. Of the sole other sound that of cries enlivener of his solitude as lost to suffering he sat at his table head on hands the same was true. Of their whenceabouts that is of clock and cries the same was true that is no more to be determined now than as was only natural then. Bringing to bear on all this his remains of reason he sought help in the thought that his memory of indoors was perhaps at fault and found it of none. Further to his disarray his soundless tread as when barefoot he trod the floor. So all ears from bad to worse till in the end he ceased if not to hear to listen and set out to look about him. Result finally he was in a field of grass which went some way if nothing else to explain his tread and then a little later as if to make up for this some way to increase his trouble. For he could recall no field of grass from even the very heart of which no limit of any kind was to be discovered but always in some quarter or another some end in sight such as a fence or other manner of bourne from which to return. Nor on his looking more closely to make matters worse was this the short green grass he seemed to remember eaten down by flocks and herds but long and light grey in colour verging here and there on white. Then he sought help in the thought that his memory of outdoors was perhaps at fault and found it of none. So all eyes from bad to worse till in the end he ceased if not to see to look (about him or more closely) and set out to take thought. To this end for want of a stone on which to sit like Walther and cross his legs the best he could do was stop dead and stand stock still which after a moments hesitation he did and of course sink his head as one deep in meditation which after another moment of hesitation he did also. But soon weary of vainly delving in those remains he moved on through the long hoar grass resigned to not knowing where he was or how he got there or where he was going or how we was going to get back to whence he knew not how he came. So on unknowing and no end in sight. Unknowing and what is more no wish to know nor indeed any wish of any kind nor therefore any sorrow save that he would have wished the strokes to cease and the cries for good and was sorry that they did not. The strokes now faint now clear as if carried by the wind but not a breath and the cries now faint now clear.
So on till stayed when to his ears from deep within oh how and here a word he could not catch it were to end where never till then. Rest then before again from not long to so long that perhaps never again and then faint from deep within oh how and here that missing word again it were to end where never till then. In any case whatever it might be to end and so on was he not already as he stood there all bowed down and to his ears faint from deep within again and again oh how something and so on was he not so far as he could see already there where never till then? For how could even such a one as he having once found himself in such a place not shudder to find himself in it again which he had not done nor having shuddered seek help in vain in the thought so-called that having somehow got out of it then he could somehow get out of it again which he had not done either. There then all this time where never till then and so far as he could see in every direction when he raised his head and opened his eyes no danger or hope as the case might be of his ever getting out of it. Was he then now to press on regardless now in one direction and now in another or on the other hand stir no more as the case might be that is as that missing word might be which if to warn such as sad or bad for example then of course in spite of all the one and if the reverse then of course the other that is stir no more. Such and much more such the hubbub in his mind so-called till nothing left from deep within but only ever fainter oh to end. No matter how no matter where. Time and grief and self so-called. Oh all to end.
April 13, 2015
mosses from an old manse
A Letter to Hammertown
The orange chestnut canopy has shredded
into a discarded hamper
of wet umber, umber-orange,
lacy amber, blood-orange
& bloody amber rags
through which tires carve calm channels in time,
neat stripes of a general widening
as the averages catch up.
I snobbishly note on Shasta’s behalf
the oddly spindly thighs
of her underemployed big city sisters
by fedora dad or leopard mom
insulting white bags
threaded through their collars
a badge of slavery–
no sniff, no FIELD, no flicker.
On the soundwalk the light
is louder than I remember,
darkest in the undertree gloom
dramatic gravel bony underfoot
until cranked across by cable car,
eighties rain filtering
through a carpentered forties porch
onto the basement suite stairwell.
Twin ghosts of my brother
pass each other at different times
& don’t look up.
wary, preoccupied, in transit.
Later I made a loop
of the pebble crunch & engine
so that they’d course
through her headphones
& make a kind of disco
that I could then loop again
& install in a top branch
under the streetlight
a kind of permanent radio.
Missing though: the persistent
sense of misdirection, the relaxation
of muscles associated
with certain vocabularies,
the slow rounding off
of matter under successive waves
of daylight & water.
The next day the microphone
was a hummingbird
extracting sugar from ink,
hovering locked sentences
breaking up in a
riot of orange lichen
& red bricks flattened under solar flares.
& in sleep
the furious forest
the ringing silence
thick fleshly endrenched
footfall & Shasta’s fast footfall
ringing antennae of sleep
along the long hillsides
always stumbling & climbing
gravity heavy feet prescient sleep
sleep coming to each limb
the will forward fall asleep
walk & fall asleep
along the long lakesides.
Run & drift awake
the stubble of vocabulary
swirls around your feet
in spouts of antique bliss
the furious forest
now suffused with a pink x-ray light
under which the bones
of the street are revealed in
arched & baroque forms
ringing byzantine brass
through coloratura speakers
interrupts the operations of sleep
along the long avenues
always always climbing
the will forward will fall asleep
& run & drift awake
along the long lakesides.
In Memoriam: Peter Culley
Books by Peter Culley
His landscape is equally a product of cultural memory, real estate development, individual perception and geology. The lapsed economy of Culley’s place and its seeming insignificance in contemporary cultural and political movements ironically lend Hammer- town a potent metaphorical power. The moving filaments of Culley’s witnessing attention among the weathers and ephemera of the hinterland begin to expose the speciousness of centrist self-regard.
The lyric poem is now a very minor cultural form. But its integrity can be located in the precise and difficult description of the shape of between. Culley dares to give language to this interregnum, this morning which has used up all the verbs. It is importantly minor, what he can do.
Because I Am Always Talking: [pdf]
Reading Vancouver Into The Western Front
The literary reading is one of the last survivors of a once thriving oratorical culture. The
decline of such other oratorical institutions as the sermon, the public lecture and the political
speech, and the concomitant emergence of such new forms as sound-bite rhetoric, rap music
and stand-up comedy have given the literary reading an anachronistic, genteel air, one
whose demands on attention seem to speak to another time. Even the simple act of reading
aloud to loved ones, one of the most intimate experiences that literature allows us, has now
sadly all but disappeared beyond the confines of the nursery, replaced by the competing
schmooze of Arsenio and Jay. So why then, on any given Vancouver evening, do groups of
people travel various distances, often in the rain, to hear writers read aloud from their work?
Work that, often enough, does not offer the simple comforts of either lyrical or narrative
My point here is simply that during the act of vocal transmission, written work is subject to a
variety of effects and transformations, both conscious and unconscious. Many writers ignore
or underestimate such effects, acting as if their work truly 'speaks for itself', as if their
larynxes and voice boxes were acting as the transparent medium of their written intentions.
An insistence on inscription as the final arbiter of a text's reality makes not only an
unsupportable claim on the nature of an audience's attention, but badly underestimates the
demonic power of speech. Who dares assume that a listener, having heard a writer, is
thereby somehow obligated to read the writer's work, or that this reading offers a necessarily
deeper or more profound experience? The most successful literary readings are those that
insist on their ephemerality, their manifest existence as discreet events in time. The contract
between listener and writer is fulfilled within the act of listening. Vancouver audiences
know this, and attend readings less as parishioners in the church of print than as wary
flaneurs in search of exotic left-brain stimulation.