With a book of stories that came out in September and a new book of poems just out in the last week or two, I think the time has come to go east and give some readings. I have two east coast readings coming up, one in New York City and one in Washington DC. I'd love to see you at either one and for any socializing that goes on afterwards.
Here are the details on the readings and my new books:
New York City Saturday, March 29, 4 p.m. Rodrigo Toscano and Mark Wallace The Bowery Poetry Club 308 Bowery @ Bleecker, right across from CBGB's and just north of Houston. For more details, including directions: http://www.bowerypoetry.com/
“A string of reproaches against other people leads one to suspect the existence of a string of self-reproaches with the same content. All that needs to be done is to turn back each single reproach on to the speaker himself. There is something undeniably automatic about this method of defending oneself against a self-reproach by making the same reproach against someone else... A grown-up person who wanted to throw back abuse would look for some really exposed spot in his antagonist and would not lay the chief stress upon the same content being repeated.”
Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
Or at least he’s made it to the front cover and main story of the San Diego Weekly Reader, with a caption reading “Tie This Guy Up: Make Sure He Stays at SDSU.” I’ve linked to the story here, and I hope you’ll read it.
For those of you who don’t know the San Diego Reader (which I’m assuming is most of you), it’s the main alternative weekly paper of the city, equivalent to the City Paper in Washington, DC and other similar versions elsewhere. The Reader is hardly as good as the City Paper, which is faint praise, I know, but there it is. They don’t even run Savage Love, for one, although a recent occasional series, Dumped, allows people to write in their stories about just how badly they let their romantic partners treat them before being left behind entirely. It’s a voyeuristic treat for those like me who enjoy that “how bad can it get” sort of thing.
The City Paper sometimes runs articles on local writers. They once did one on me, and on Buck Downs, and recently on Rod Smith. But they were small articles (and perhaps, uh, reveal a bit of gender bias?). This on the other hand is a cover story, and the picture, as you can see, is a big picture, with Ilya’s eyes looking down over his glasses skeptically and intensely at us all. This is some serious Local Press Cool Points.
Some of my friends in DC probably remember Big Ilya from when he lived there and was taking classes at Georgetown University. He became Big Ilya not simply because he was big (about six foot three) but because we also met another Russian emigré poet about the same time, Little Ilya, who was much smaller. In order to avoid people asking “Which Ilya?” dividing them into Big and Little made sense. Little Ilya has not so far made it as big, although I continue to wish him success for the future.
Being in theory the political center of the U.S. (although much of its power has long since been farmed out to various multinational corporations, in case you didn’t know), DC has a large international population. In fact there’s something of a history of Russian poets and Russian emigré poets in DC, although I myself don’t know it in detail. I remember, probably some time in 1996 or 97, my friend Joe Ross arranging to give a reading with a Russian emigré poet at the series I ran at the Ruthless Grip Art Project. I have pictures of the event, but I only met her that one evening and never saw or heard of her again, and I can’t remember her name. So Joe, if you’re reading this, can you fill me in? But in any case our audience that night featured a very sizeable Russian component, and the event was enjoyed by all. My impression is that the Russian presence in DC poetry has remained somewhat low profile but is also consistent. Recently my former colleague at George Washington University, Daniel Gutstein, was working with a young Russian-American poet, Olga Tsyganova, who has now gone to graduate school at Georgetown.
I’m hardly on expert on modern and contemporary Russian poetry or on Russian poetry in translation. For the most part I like the Russian poets that you might expect me to, given that I’m one of those people who still thinks the word avant garde means something worthwhile. Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Mayakovsky. Of living Russian poets I think Arkadii Dragomoschenko is really great, although I’ve heard it said that some Russian poets believe his work is too Americanized. There was a book called Blue Vitriol by Alexei Parshchikov published by Avec back in 1994 that I thought was very enjoyable. Much of the rest is a mishmash to me. Other Russian poetry I’ve read in translation can seem more than a little lugubrious, which is indeed just the word I want: long, image laden lines in a grim monotone. I don’t know enough to know whether that’s a function of what Russian poetry is like, or what it sounds like when translated into English, or whether it’s just my own lack of information. I’d love to be further informed, so let me know what you know.
In any case, on those occasions when I talked to him, usually when sitting in on a poetry seminar at Georgetown, where I taught a class now and then, Ilya seemed like a nice guy, and I wish him well. He published his first book, Dancing in Odessa, when he was 28, and it won something called The Dorset Prize. Now at 31 he’s an assistant professor at SDSU, so he and I are in the same business and just down the road from each other too. For his theories on poetry I’ll leave you to the article itself, although his basic theory, as quoted in the article, is “All young men’s poetry begins with a broken heart.” I suppose on some level I wouldn’t disagree, at least not entirely, although I imagine some of us might get, at times, a little tired of young men and their broken hearts.
One definition of culture is the whole nexus of lived social practices of a particular group of people in a particular place and time.
If we accept that definition, then the constant force of change that’s present in culture might be defined as circulation: the movement of people across place and the exchanges of resources (both ideas and goods) that occur as they move.
This exchange always involves conditions of power. The most extreme use of power in the process of circulation involves the forced seizing of resources: an invasion.
Culture always remains most the same when it circulates least. But even when it remains most the same, culture also always involves conditions of power: how the culture is organized and who is in charge.
Even when it remains most the same, a culture also always contains within it pressures towards circulation, even if those pressures are nothing more than the shifting power relations within a family, clan, town, or region. All people can seek to circulate at any time, although others may succeed in restraining them.
Yet even when circulating is most frequent, the force of culture remains, even if it is nothing more than the distant memory of a person who long ago traveled permanently far from home.
The dynamic interaction between culture and circulation is inevitable. The key issue involves when to assert the value of culture and when to assert the value of circulation.
But it’s also not surprising that it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that one or the other is a fundamental source of good or its opposite. At the present time, for instance, some see the good of culture as being at war with the evil of globalization, while others insist on the good of exchange over the backwardness of culture.
How can we work to recognize that culture and circulation will always interact, and that conditions of power will always be at stake in them, without the always fundamentalist assertion that one or the other is an absolute good?
A master at making genre question itself, Mark Wallace gets the square peg in the round hole again. A stark and aphoristic long poem about living and working during the war—direct, wise, and brave enough to skip the decorative—bumps up against the witty, clanging, angry, top-speed, palimpsestuous title series—lyrics that swallow their own tails. Wallace is cynical, clear-eyed, and resolutely jokey on commerce, war, love (the "therapeutic use of commitment") and exhausted longing ("This day could be about today, leisurely and bright/if the days weren't stacked like nights inside it.") Nobody gets away with anything in Felonies of Illusion: we're all skewered till we grimace and grin.
Mark Wallace invents only what's real. If democracies could talk, we would in fact be able to understand them, but we would need the help of poems like these. As its title suggests, the language of Felonies of llusion is premised on a sense of justice and reciprocity. The need is real, and thus the need for invention is constant. The writing betrays no qualms about showing this. There's serious play going on here.
Elegaic without strings, passionate without bravado, up the tragic creek without a cathartic paddle, Mark Wallace’s Felonies of Illusion is an intensely personal collection of valedictions, an extended suite of lyric leavetakings written in the infinite series of penultimate milliseconds before an always-imminent obliteration—a “now” that “is not that long from now.” These already painful goodbyes, however, are suspended in a nervewracking holding pattern as “the total system / shouts back that there’s no way to leave.” Wallace rehearses the purgatorial illogic of perpetual orange alert with unsparing gravity, but also with empathy and wit. His poems confront us with the human truth of the narratives we spin daily in the name of individual survival at the same time that they caution us not to “get / too attached to the story told / imploding.”
K. Silem Mohammad
It’s happened before or every other guest aches to be buried the new right way proofs are proofs? When we set out to design compact thinking, we ended up with lots
of transit to the usual beach spots splintered on assumptions. Are you talking to your hand yet? Out of signs, tumble switched, thrown on
a presupposed interior call field? Before anyone can toss in the towel on top of excessive numbers or nightmares read the instructions carefully. So does it
take ammonia? Could one highlight film recall a bandit on the run for all new greed? People are people like news is gossip. Whatever I did
becomes equivalent border patsy stressful reflex. If responsibility accepts another slanted chain of events to slip away from, the clamp
on the clamp, the public note, slander advancement eats alive at many a local hot spot, previewing blunders. Step right up to the pressure cap.