Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nada Gordon and K. Lorraine Graham Burn Down Los Angeles: Sunday, January 2

Well, in fact they might just give a reading. But you never know, and whatever they do, this is going to be a fascinating, can't miss event.


The Poetic Research Bureau presents...


Sunday, January 2, 2011 at 7:30pm

The PRB@The Public School
951 Chung King Rd.
Los Angeles, CA

Doors open at 7:00pm
Reading starts at 7:30pm

$5 donation requested

Nada Gordon is the author of several poetry books: Folly, V. Imp, Are Not Our Lowing Heifers Sleeker than Night-Swollen Mushrooms?, and foriegnn bodie-- and an e-pistolary techno-romantic non-fiction novel, Swoon. Her new book, Scented Rushes, is just out from Roof books. A founding member of the Flarf Collective, she practices poetry, song, dance, dressmaking, and image manipulation as deep entertainment. She blogs at

K. Lorraine Graham is the author of Terminal Humming, (Edge Books), recent work has appeared in Eleven Eleven, the Zaoem International Poetry Exhibition at the Minardschouwburg, Gent, Belgium, and the Infusoria visual poetry exhibition in Brussels.  She lives in Carlsbad, CA, with her partner Mark Wallace and Lester Young, a pacific parrotlet. You can find her online at

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The End of America, Book 5 (continued)

The End of America, Book 5, begins here.


(The End of America, Book 5, continued)

What I value about America is the way human overpopulation in southern California is helping crows become the dominant bird species.

What I value about America is news about sex slaves.

What I value about America is B-film shockers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

What I value about America is constant media coverage of the media.

What I value about America is Bomb Pops. Do they make those any more?

What I value about America is academic conference cash bars.

What I value about America is trivia game shows.

What I value about America is phrases like “Love It or Leave It.”

What I value about America is that while we may not have any more Mountain Men living in rustic shacks with their Indian Brides, we have plenty of guys in designer camouflage gear shooting prairie dogs with high-powered rifles.

What I value about America is tradition.

What I value about America is feuds and grudge matches.

I value, in America, professional wrestling and skateboarding and surfing and extreme sports and any and all instances of male bodies pitted against each other or the elements of nature, especially those that feature sponsors and endorsements. And I value instances of female bodies doing the same though they seem to get less sponsorship, which must mean that some people value them less but I’m not one of those people.

What I value about America is how much Americans are willing to pay to look at each other perform, especially in various degrees of undress.

What I value about America is fabric and upholstery freshener sprays.

What I value about America is the Conqueror Worm.

What I value about America is a couple on a balcony screaming at each other in the afternoon sun, their voices ragged with rage, the woman shouting repeatedly, “Get the fuck out of here.”

What I value about America is the certainty that what I value about America won’t be understood.

What I value about America is all sex all the time.

What I value about America is that some will call this poem elitist and some will call it too ironic and some will call it leftist and some will call it not leftist enough and some will say that what I value about America is based on the fact that I’m a white man and some will say that the poem is worthwhile and some will say that it’s not. And some will say that the poem fails to draw a clear distinction between moral and immoral action, or between useful or un-useful political action, and some will say its refusal to draw clear distinctions defines a necessary ground for moral or useful action that more cut and dried distinctions can never manage and some will say that it doesn’t.

And what I value about America is that neither me nor anybody else can say if writing this poem has any value, to anyone in America or anyone not in America but who might be interested in America, beyond whatever value it has to whoever might read it and do something with it and whatever value it had to me writing it.

What I value about America is that it’s two continents with many countries, not just one country, and if I don’t mention that, someone else will.

What I value about America is the sax solos of Lester Young and Charlie Parker and how Parker initially learned from Young but that, by 1946, when they played together at the Philharmonic, Parker was just beginning to be famous and Young, eleven years older, was battered by syphilis and alcoholism and his time in the U.S. military when he ended up in jail and was probably beaten, and how because of that in 1946 Parker could play more sharply than Young, who despite his growing frailty played an emotionally powerful if technically flawed solo before and after Parker’s two great choruses in “Lady Be Good,” and Parker’s fame increased because he had surpassed his own main idol and had become the most important original genius in jazz and yet only eight years later would be dead, actually dying before Young, who though already ill by the time Parker was rising to fame outlived him by four years.

What I value about America is CDs with endless alternate takes.

What I value about America is Internet cowards who leave hostile anonymous comments on other people’s blogs.

What I value about America is the firm conviction of many Americans that they, and they alone, are the last honest person in America.

What I value about America is people’s eagerness to take their clothes off.

What I value about America is summer. Especially summer weekends at the beach. And even more especially the nostalgia that gets attached to the idea of summer and how that nostalgia, when I was growing up, was put to work in television ads for lemonade.

What I value about America is making things into opposites that don’t have to be opposites.

What I value about America is everything people say about America and everything they don’t say. Which, you have to admit, gives me a lot to value.

What I value about America is the connection between mining strikes, the Carnegies, police and private security brutality, and the creation of the public relations industry.

What I value about America is the kind of life people have to live when they work at convenience stores and fast food restaurants.

What I value about America is its borders.

What I value about America is all the ways there are to make money—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little—off ideas about its borders.

And the way, in America, some people want people to come up from Mexico to work for them and some people don’t want people to come up from Mexico to work, and some people want the one while saying they want they other.

What I value about America is how it seems there’s a way to wring cash out of just about anything. Especially things that hurt other people.

What I value about America is con games and that it’s not clear how many of us are playing them.

What I value about America is that some people may think I’m writing this for the money.

What I value about America is career advancement.

What I value about America is that even people who don’t give a damn about freedom, justice or equality still have to say they do if they want to succeed in politics. But I also value the fact that having to talk about those concepts doesn’t mean you intend to do anything about them.

What I value about America is hypocrisy.

What I value about America is the way a mercenary organization like Blackwater can have a CEO who says he wants to get the company out of the security business as a cover for the organization’s future mercenary activities.

What I value about America is how difficult it is to know what goes on hidden behind the spin.

What I value about America are its many and constantly evolving types of stalkers: sexual stalkers, workplace stalkers, government stalkers, celebrity stalkers, Internet stalkers, even intellectual and poetry stalkers.

What I value about America is ordinary, hard-working Americans, the phrase “ordinary, hard-working Americans,” and the differences between the two.

What I value about America is that everybody in America is allowed to create any religion they want with any beliefs that they want and promote it as much as they can.

What I value about America is Hank in Alabama, Nate in Alaska, Barbara in Arizona, Katy and Matt in Arkansas, Dodie and Kevin in California, Noah in Colorado, Steven in Connecticut, a whole bunch of people in DC, Amanda in Delaware, Vernon in Florida, Laura in Georgia, Susan in Hawaii, Martin in Idaho, Lisa and Bill in Illinois, Joyelle and Johannes in Indiana, Cole in Iowa, Anne in Kansas, Dana in Kentucky, Bill in Louisiana, Carla and Ben in Maine, Tina in Maryland, Elisa in Massachusetts, Gina in Michigan, Elizabeth and Jeff in Minnesota, Tim in Mississippi, Jonathan in Missouri, Prageeta in Montana, Bill in Nebraska, Sherre in Nevada, no one I can think of at all in New Hampshire, Stephen in New Jersey, Joy and Bruce in New Mexico, Kristin in New York, Ken in North Carolina, no idea in North Dakota, Cathy in Ohio, Susan in Oklahoma, Allison and Jen in Oregon, Linh in Pennsylvania, Rosemarie in Rhode Island, David in South Carolina, no idea in South Dakota either, Amy in Tennessee, Hoa in Texas, Lance in Utah, Ruth in Vermont, Reb in Virginia, Nico in Washington, Tom in West Virginia, Roberto in Wisconsin, and Danielle in Wyoming

What I value about America is Marxists.

What I value about America is the gnawing emptiness I feel when trying to write about what I value about America, and I value that the way I’ve been managing to get the energy to write is to make myself annoyed and find people to be annoyed about or to fill myself with longing and find people to long for.

What I value about America is my lack of inner emotional resources.

What I value about America is how difficult it is to like and help other people, and how that difficulty for so many people can override their own better intentions.

What I value about America is how often I’ve been told the joke, “Stress is what results from not kicking the shit out of someone who heartily deserves it.”

What I value about America is bathroom homily plaques.

What I value about America is how it’s possible for people to be marginalized and privileged at the same time in different areas of their lives.

What I value about America is advice columns.

What I value about America is my need for love.

What I value about America is how talk about true love is often a cover for the fact that in order to be happy, people need a fulfilling web of human connections of which romantic love is really only one element.

What I value about America is happiness studies.

What I value about America is how friendship is not really an element of the American dream.

What I value about America is that hard work is considered more important than thoughtful or effective work.

What I value about America is that dividing life into work and leisure makes both unbearable.

What I value about America is working for the weekend.

What I value about America is how stunning it is to be so lonely even when other people know and love me.

What I value about America is all the ways to be inaccessible.

What I value about America is Detroit.

What I value about America is people who are sure they’re right.

What I value about America is all the really cool Canadian writers even though I know that Canada has a similar set of problems to any capitalist democracy as well as a few unique ones of its own.

What I value about America is Quebec: the city, the old town, the province, the small shore towns running up the St. Lawrence River, the wilderness and mountains and inland fjords and the small cold inland industrial towns like Chicoutimi, which I visited in summer when the day was sunny and humid and light sparkled off gas station walls.

What I value about America is Lac Ha Ha.

What I value about America is the way governmental oversight organizations, like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, or the Department of Health and Human Services, sometimes provide oversight and sometimes prevent it, requiring oversight of the oversight, which sometimes doesn’t work either.

What I value about America is sleeveless tees.

What I value about America is the exorbitant cost of women’s clothing.

What I value about America is that, after some years of the conservative training that became more common during the George Bush years, more and more young women in America say that having a baby is natural by which they mean that they shouldn’t use birth control, and so when they’re having sex they’re more likely to get pregnant casually, and sooner or later of course the man runs off, whether they were married or not makes no difference, and because of the idea that birth is a natural thing that happens to women, the women think it’s their obligation to raise the child or children on their own and they don’t even go to court trying to get paternity payments.

What I value about America is women who write well or play music well or paint well or work well in politics or community organizations and who are making decisions to do what they want with their lives, either with men or with other women or with whoever they want to be with, and I value the women who don’t know they have these options or who are prevented by their families or their upbringing from having these options or knowing they have them, and I value women who think they know what their options are when they don’t.

What I value about America is how many people think feminism should be over with when they don’t even know what it was or is.

What I value about America is when the fish people rise from alluvial mud.

What I value about America is what it must have been like to be the only Surrealist in Minnesota, and what it must be like, now, to be one of four or five of them.

(to be continued)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The End of America, Book 5 (continued)

(Pictured: The Statue of Liberty and the Encina Power Station, Carlsbad, CA. Separated at birth?)

The End of America, Book 5 begins here.

End of America, Book 5 continued

What I value about America is that little spongy pad not much bigger than the tip of a finger which falls off a space craft, a failure costing several hundred million dollars and causing several experienced astronauts to spend hours replacing it because otherwise they’ll never return to earth.

And I value those friends who can’t keep a secret and when you’re involved romantically with somebody new always wants to tell that person about all the other people you were involved with.          

What I value about America is liking my friends and not liking other people’s friends, or else it’s not liking my friends and liking the friends of others.

What I value about America is spicy jalapenos.

What I value about America is salmonella warnings.

What I value about America is that the snake with one hundred heads jumps right out of the treasure chest.

What I value about America is pirate movies.

What I value about America is car dealerships.

And RV and SUV and motorcycle and pretty much every other kind of dealership.

What I value about America is my girlfriend.

I value photographs of Mom and Dad, Pappy and Grandma, Uncle Joe, and the dog.

I’m not sure about Uncle Joe though. What I value about America is a story that someone once told me about their Uncle Joe: “One time when we had a pool party of friends, neighbors, and relatives at my house. Joe disappeared for awhile with one of the neighborhood boys, and later that afternoon several people saw the boy run home crying. I barely noticed at the time and never thought about it again until years later when my brother, who had a long history of alcohol problems, drug abuse and difficulty holding jobs, called me drunk and crying and accused Joe of having molested him and several other neighborhood boys when they were children. He said my parents had known but refused to admit it. My brother never mentioned it again and since both my parents had died, I never found out what was true.”

What I value about America is family secrets.

I value, in America, the guy who says that says insurance salesmen have the kinds of values that make for great fathers and the guy who responds to him by saying his own father was an insurance salesman and a drunken lout who ruined his mother’s life.

And I value the 50th anniversary of Bob and Jeanette Smith, married in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of 18 and who still live just outside it, and who for their golden wedding party were greeted by their five living children (Steve, the sixth, had died in a car wreck), thirteen grandchildren and two great great grandchildren, as well as numerous friends, and who all weekend hugged heartily and laughed heartily and felt gratified and loved, and who looked forward to attending the wedding of their grandson Jeremy later that summer.

And I value the way, in America, when families like that appear in the news they’re always white families even though there are also Latino and black and Asian and Indian and Pacific Islander and Arab families who might be described a similar way.

What I value about America is how it seems impossible to include, even if only in a brief mention, all the different kinds of cultural backgrounds that people in America have.

What I value about America is how many Americans talk about the value of family while simultaneously seeing their families as little as possible, sometimes only on holidays during which a lot of depression, anxiety, and outrage is directed by Americans at other members of their families.

So when you ask me what I value about America, I’m going to have to say I value conflictedness.

What I value about America is warm July breezes off the ocean.

What I value about America is poets criticizing each other endlessly and harshly.

What I value about America is conventional standards of beauty, which make it easier to decide whether people are attractive before you even know them.

What I value about America is the cult of the baby.

What I value about America is the CPUSA, SWP, the AFL-CIO, the US American labor movement, and the SEIU (even their actions at the 2008 Labor Notes conference in Detroit), and all the work these movements have done to better the lives of working people and all the problems they’ve sometimes caused by supporting questionable positions in maneuvering for power and by disagreeing among themselves and with each other about how to better people’s lives and by not always being sure what the best ends might be.

What I value about America is exhaustion and feelings of emptiness.

What I value about America is starting over.

What I value about America is my right not to try.

What I value about America is that instant of knowing it’s not going to work, whatever it is, even though I’ve spent hours or days or weeks trying to make it work, but it’s not going to, it never is, and I’ve been fighting it for awhile and then the instant of knowing arrives and it’s devastating, like nothing is going to work ever again, and I’m right about that, nothing is going to work ever again, and I have to set it aside and not think about it but it’s all I can think about because what else is there to think about if nothing is going to work ever again, which it isn’t, yet eventually I forget about it and start up again at something else, whatever it is, that may work or may not work but probably won’t because nothing ever does, and so the instant of knowing is the instant of going on, the instant of forgetting and repeating and knowing what won’t work but then being unable later to remember even the most obvious and unavoidable facts.

What I value about America is the obvious and unavoidable facts and our ability to know them and forget them.

So don’t ask me what I value about America because I’m going to have to tell you and then we’ll both have to know.

What I value about America is all the flimsy appliances I use that are made in other countries under work conditions I never have to see or know anything about.

What I value about America is slang.

What I value about America is the right not to understand anything anyone is trying to say.

What I value about America is instructional films about car wrecks designed to scare teenagers into driving more carefully.

What I value about America is the death wish.

What I value about America is property and privacy.

What I value about America is slogans.

What I value about America is good people doing bad things.

What I value about America is perpetual war.

What I value about America is Justin from the trailer park, or Manuel from the barrio, or Reggie from the ‘hood, or Rochelle or Debbie from their apartments with their mothers, or Francisco the son of an insurance salesman or Elbert whose brothers work the docks, all of whom or any of whom sign up with the Marines because they need something or are looking for something or want to contribute something or protect something or are angry enough to take something out on someone, and who after a few weeks or months of training in “You Are Your Rifle” and how to do what they’re told and use a few pieces of electronic equipment and humiliate each other for stepping out of line or for having different cultural backgrounds or just for existing, find themselves on a street in Iraq where children wave to them or hide and adults come up, loud and friendly because they want to make sure that no one thinks they mean any harm to the young Americans with the weapons, and this goes on for awhile and it’s more than one hundred degrees every day and there’s nothing to do and they’ve been trained to fight, not just to sit and watch, and one day under the leadership of a man who has developed a nervous blink and who uses “fuck” and “raghead” in the same phrases over and over, they’re asked to clear a neighborhood where a few hidden people are firing rounds at them, and then Justin, or Manuel, or whichever one of them because it could be any, turns a corner and is startled by movement from behind and screams and shoots and more or less tears apart a woman who had thought she had heard something, one of her children maybe, and stepped out only half-intentionally into the alley, and then Elbert or Reggie, or whoever it is, knows instantly that he’s killed someone’s mother and that he, not anyone else, is the person who doesn’t belong here and never should have been here, and then several months later, exhausted and unable to sleep, he takes his rifle out one night and shoots himself, becoming one of the many suicide casualties of the war.

And what I value about America is the poets who argue that none of this should have happened, that Debbie or Francisco or Justin or Elbert or Rochelle should have known better or should have been able to go somewhere where people would have told them not to become Marines, that people have an ethical obligation to understand that you shouldn’t confuse future opportunities with signing up to murder people in distant parts of the world, and the poets, some of whom have no real potential soldiers to tell these things to, argue with each other about them or march in protests or learn the history of labor unions and social alternatives, and meanwhile future Justins and Manuels stop joining the armed forces so much, at least for the moment, because almost everyone has figured out by now that there’s no sense in going to Iraq, except of course for those so-called leaders who either still think that there’s something to be gained or, more likely, realize that they’d lose their jobs if they change their minds and they’d rather have someone else die than lose their jobs.

So if you value America like I do, you’re going to have to value a lot of people and ideas and events that are difficult to value, and you’re going to have to understand that saying you value something doesn’t mean you know how you value it, and how you value it is the question that you’re trying every day to answer.

What I value about America is the three baby hawks in the courtyard who have now gotten older and who play and fight with each other in the grass, picking up sticks in their talons as a way of learning to hunt.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The End of America, Book 5

(opening excerpt; to be continued later)

What I value about America is mass produced black tee shirts with mythical lizard images.

What I value about America is meaningless choices between gas stations and the worthless distinction called “Super Unleaded.”

What I value about America is the waitress in a coffee shop who by my third day of vacation in Palm Springs already knows what my order is going to be, and also the high school boy who works there and who, when I come back for the second time in a day, says, skeptically, “You again?”

What I value about America is any cranky opinion you want to have.

What I value about America is the leaking pump in my toilet bowl.

What I value about America is my ability to comment on the rest of the world without ever having to go there.

What I value about America is that instant when two people in a car sail out over a cliff, look back at the ridge where the police have gathered to watch them die and silver-streaked rocks glint in the sun, and as the car heads towards the ocean below they think to themselves that America never seems so beautiful as when you say goodbye to it.

What I value about America is hard drive crashes.

What I value about America is giving directions.

What I value about America is the way I don’t have to know anyone well.

What I value about America smells like cheeseburgers.

What I value about America is staying with friends for a few days in a house on the Susquehanna River and driving into Front Royal in the evening for dinner because even in the Shenandoah Hills there’s one good Mexican restaurant.

What I value about America is the hawks born in the trees in the courtyard of my apartment complex who think of the apartment complex as home.

What I value about America is lunch meat.

What I value about America is the way freedom of speech means that every organization gets to decide for itself what it’s unwilling to listen to.

And the way that anybody who calls somebody else an asshole thinks they have a right to a response.

What I value about America is going to work in the morning.

What I value about America is the way my whole life I’ve been told what America is.

What I value about America is the constant feeling I have that I never want to talk about America again.

What I value about America is, of course, American cheese.

But only when the slices are individually wrapped. Otherwise they all just stick together.

What I value about America is a woman who sits in the back of the class, says nothing, turns in a decent paper then disappears for weeks, shows up again at last and sits silently for a few more weeks and turns in nothing, then finally e-mails the professor on the last day of class saying “I’ve done all the work, can I still turn it in?”

What I value about America is the way Americans are asked to consider everything in terms of value. And in terms of the value of America.

What I value about America is the struggle between environmental groups trying to clean up the ocean and a corporate push to develop desalination plants to pull drinkable water out of salt water.

What I value about America is that activists hand out condoms, and roadhouse bathrooms have condom machines.

What I value about America is pop music.

What I value about America is the Charleston, the bunny hop, and the mosh pit slam.

What I value about America is all the ways to waste time on the job.

What I value about America is the struggle between sincerity and insincerity.

I value the way, in America, claiming to be sincere can be a way of saying “I have the right not to know what I’m talking about” while claiming to be insincere can be a way of saying “I have a right to feel this has nothing to do with me.”

What I value about America is comfortable running socks.

What I value about America is immigrants working for sub-minimum wage.

What I value about America is tequila and beer specials beyond the Mexican border.

What I value about America is the vision of a future in which one day all of us, no matter our race, class, or cultural background, will be working retail.

What I value about America is the way football season, basketball season and baseball season overlap so that year round, most evenings of any week, I can watch a game that I like at just that moment when I’m too tired to think.

What I value about America is Friday night parties.

What I value about America is oral narratives about its factories.

What I value about America is the fish taco in San Diego and the chicken wing in Buffalo and barbecued spare ribs just outside Dallas.

What I value about America is low fat salad dressing.

What I value about America is the impossibility not only of giving any issue a fair hearing but even of agreeing what a fair hearing means.

What I value about America is the stranglehold of the two-party system.

What I value about America is the meaning of what “is” is.

What I value about America is that equal numbers of U.S. citizens get incensed over an out-of-wedlock blow job and a war that kills hundreds of thousands of people.

What I value about America is greasing the palms.

What I value about America is men who live for the thrill of debate.

What I value about America is innuendo.

What I value about America is jazz, blues, folk, and rock and roll.

What I value about America is that the Duke and the Count and the King are musicians.

What I value about America is the bars and restaurants within a few blocks of the beach where people order tacos and nachos and pizza and beer and margaritas, even the bright yellow creamy Mango margaritas, and through the echos under the high ceilings they talk loudly about football teams and cars and boats and the price of gas and broken marriages and how much they want to get married again, and they show off tattoos and breast implants and wear tee-shirts that advertise their interests and laugh in a way that sounds half like they’re having fun and half desperate, then finally they step out to the parking lot full of oversized SUVs and drive drunk the few miles back to their vacation rentals.

So if you ask me about the end of America and what I value about America, you’ll have to listen to the answers.

(to be continued)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kate Durbin reading at Agitprop in San Diego December 4

Agitprop Reading Series, in North Park, now has a blog where you can get information about past and future readings.

Kate Durbin, a fascinating young poet who has one of the most unique and stylish stage presences around these days, will be reading at Agitprop this Saturday night. Fans of the gurlesque should especially take note and come out. The evening also features an art opening celebrating a new website by Susy Bielak.

For more details, including how to sign up on the mailing list and receive future announcements directly, visit the Agitprop Reading Series Blog.

Agitprop Gallery
Saturday, December 4, Reading 7pm, Art Opening at 8pm
2837 University Avenue in North Park (Entrance on Utah, behind Glenn's Market)
San Diego, CA 92104 * 619.384.7989 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              619.384.7989      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Importing Facebook to My Blog: Facebook Aphorisms 2010 (excerpts)


In my ongoing transition to a world of Multiple Platforms, a lot of my written social and aesthetic commentary this year has been in the form of aphorisms (and sometimes anti-aphorisms) potentially meant to become Facebook status updates, although many never do. I find myself writing more of them than I would ever put on Facebook as well as writing ones that, because of their content, I also wouldn’t put on Facebook.

So in the spirit, or perhaps anti-spirit, of putting blog posts up on Facebook, I’m now putting some of these Facebook status updates (some which never otherwise appeared) up on my blog.

And I might put up more of them later.


Dear Humans: Why should animals be friendly to you?

There’s a fine line between being laid back, repressed, and depressed.

I have the habit, probably bad, of liking people who like me and thinking they must be smart and have good taste.

Too many people would like individuality for themselves while granting only sociology to anybody else.

Either art, literature, and music have profoundly changed your life or they haven’t. Where do you stand on that issue?

The unending conflict between social norms and exploratory ideas in art and literature.

It felt a bit like being decapitated.

Today’s peace and quiet is neither.

Anything could become a cliche, but only some things already are.

Given your interests, I suggest you start doing documentary and skip the poetry part.

Your radical selfishness is actually just the same old selfishness.

Too many poems try too hard to imitate poems.

Too many poems try too hard to be poems.

Your music sounds so relaxed and precise that it seems like anyone could do it, except no one else can.

The guilt and trepidation that always comes with being exhausted.

Slang phrases like “my truth” and “relatable” try to pretend that a person’s subjective impressions are objective conditions by which other things and people must inevitably be measured.

Another one of those model husband turns out to be brutal asshole problems.

Enforced optimism imposes a culture of wishful thinking.

What is your interpretation of the phrase “settle down”?

Creating an anthology called The Generalized Grump: The Art of Criticizing Everyone While Saying Nothing Much. No trouble at all finding 800 pages of that.

My authenticity comes from being neither from the good or the bad side of town.

I like the writing of many sad, desperate poets, but that doesn’t mean they should be made into heroes, which would be, of course, to romanticize.

Too many people want themselves to be complicated and the world to be simple.

In this country, where many people construct fantasies about how much the government controls them, many people also fantasize about how much power to change anything the government actually has.

Overheard on a plane: “They’re from San Diego, so they don’t know how cold San Diego is in May.”

Intriguing detail from Gettysburg: 1863 newspaper editorials from London, Chicago, and even nearby Harrisburg making fun of Lincoln's "silly little" address. Ah, reviewers (and I'm one of them).

There are degrees and differences in poetic disjunction. It’s not just “two things that don’t match.” It’s how they don’t match that counts.

Saying that “politics is stupid” is still part of politics, and part of what makes politics stupid.

Monday, November 1, 2010

See You in Portland?

I’m going to be in Portland this weekend, from Friday November 5th until Monday, and reading in the Tangent Reading Series on Saturday November 6th. If you’re anywhere near Portland, consider yourself invited.

Then, after traveling south to Eugene and Ashland during the week, I’ll be back in Portland for a second weekend, from Friday the 12th until I fly out on Monday the 15th.

I hope to see any of you who are there, and please be in touch.


Poetry reading featuring K. Lorraine Graham, Kevin Sampsell, and Mark Wallace

Saturday, November 6  7:00pm - 10:00pm
Open Space Café
2815 SE Holgate
Portland, OR
The Tangent Press & Reading Series is pleased to host a cross-genre reading of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction on Saturday, 6 November at 7 PM. Portland-based writer and editor Kevin Sampsell will be joined by Southern California writers K. Lorraine Graham and Mark Wallace. The event will take place at the in Southeast Portland (2815 SE Holgate).
Admission is free.

Kevin Sampssell is the author of the short story collections, Beautiful Blemish and Creamy Bullets. His newest book is the memoir, A Common Pornography. He has been the publisher of Future Tense Books, a micropress, since 1990.

K. Lorraine Graham is the author of Terminal Humming (Edge Books), and her visual work has appeared in the Zaoem International Poetry Exhibition at the Minardschouwburg, Gent, Belgium, and the Infusoria visual poetry exhibition in Brussels. She lives in Carlsbad, CA, with her partner Mark Wallace and Lester Young, a pacific parrotlet. You can find her online at

Mark Wallace is the author of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and essays. Temporary Worker Rides A Subway won the 2002 Gertrude Stein Poetry Award and was published by Green Integer Books. His critical articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, and he has co-edited two essay collections, Telling It Slant: Avant Garde Poetics of the 1990s, and A Poetics of Criticism. Most recently he has published a short story collection, Walking Dreams (2007), and a book of poems, Felonies of Illusion (2008). Forthcoming in early 2011 is his second novel, The Quarry and The Lot. He teaches at California State University San Marcos.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Cleveland-Chicago-Racine readings

For those of you in the Midwest, I’ll be giving several readings, some also featuring other writers, in the following locations at the following times and dates:

Cleveland, Ohio
Thursday, October 14
9 p.m.
Jean Brandt Gallery
1028 Kenilworth Ave in Tremont

Kate Zambreno and Amanda Rosanne Howland Davidson will also be reading.

Chicago, Illinois
Saturday, October 16
7 p.m.
Myopic Books
1564 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 2nd Floor

Racine, Wisconsin
Sunday, October 17
7 p.m.
Gallery B4S, 613 Sixth Street
event hosted by the Racine Public Library

Jennifer Karmin and Tom Orange will also be reading.

Notes on the other authors:


Kate Zambreno lived, wrote and taught for many years in Chicago before moving to Akron last year. Her novel O Fallen Angel, which won Chiasmus Press' "Undoing the Novel" contest, depicts a triptych of an American family during wartime. A collection of theoretical essays stemming from her blog “Francis Farmer is My Sister” will be published by Semiotext(e)'s Active Agents series in Spring 2012. She is currently teaching creative nonfiction at Cleveland State this semester.

Amanda Rosanne Howland Davidson hails from Canton and now lives on the West Side with her husband Scott. She has just started the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Cleveland State. For many years she has also been active on the Cleveland underground music scene, playing guitar and singing in the band Dead Peasant Insurance, which has toured widely throughout the U.S. and since 2004 issued nearly a dozen limited edition recordings on cassette and CD-R releases, most recently Cleveland Scum Skulls on the Pizza Night.


Jennifer Karmin’s text-sound epic, Aaaaaaaaaaalice, was published by Flim Forum Press in 2010. She curates the Red Rover Series and is co-founder of the public art group Anti Gravity Surprise. Her multidisciplinary projects have been presented at festivals, artist-run spaces, community centers, and on city streets across the U.S., Japan, and Kenya.  At home in Chicago, Jennifer teaches creative writing to immigrants at Truman College and works as a Poet-in-Residence for the public schools.

Tom Orange currently lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio. A poet, critic, and saxophone player, his recent work appears or is forthcoming in Court Green, Primary Writing, The Word at Peek Review, Rock Heals, and The Poker, and in the Slow Poetry anthology that appeared on Big Bridge.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Readings in Portugal and Galicia

If you just happen to be in Portugal or Galicia (northwestern Spain), I´d be as surprised about that as I would be about your ability to attend my readings there. But who knows? You can't make it if I don't invite you, so consider yourself invited.

On Tuesday, September 28 at 6 p.m., at the University of Coimbra (top picture), in Coimbra, Portugal, I'll be presenting my work at the Faculdade de Letras. My university, California State University, San Marcos, is celebrating its 20th anniversary (1991-2010) this year, which makes it almost exactly 700 years younger than the University of Coimbra (1290-2010), Portugal's first university. It's my second reading at the university in Coimbra. My first was in the 1995 Second International Meeting of Poets, which brought writers to Portugal from all over the world. For anyone who doesn't know, the University of Coimbra has long been a crucial European center for the study of literature.

On Friday, October 1 (time still to be determined; I'll update as I learn more), I'll be reading at the University of Vigo (seen from aerial distance; second picture) in Galicia, the northwestern edge of Spain, a region which has a very different history than the rest of Spain and sees itself as very much its own separate place. The University of Vigo is a new and highly energetic university and has a well-informed faculty very interested in contemporary literature. I've never been there before and I'm excited to be going there.

I'd end by saying that I hope I'll see you there, except that seems unlikely for most of you. So instead I'll say, so you there or somewhere else, some time soon, I hope.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jumping Ship

I’m flying to Europe tomorrow morning and will be there until early October. After spending a couple of nights in Belgium, I’ll be in Portugal for the majority of the trip, splitting my time between the city of Oporto (top picture) and Monsanto (bottom picture), a Portuguese village in the mountains and which has medieval roots.

I may not find any time to blog during this period, but if I get a chance to put something up now and then, I will. And I don’t know how often I’ll be available on e-mail, so please don’t be surprised if there are any delays in getting back to you.

In the meantime, my longtime colleague and friend Tom Orange might put a guest blog post or two. Tom and I agree on many things but may differ on others, and all views he expresses are his own. I hope you’ll engage him in discussion if you’re inclined.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve not worked or been in school in the fall, and I feel a sort of pleasant, falsely romantic sense of shirking my duties, jumping ship, and traveling to unexplored lands.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brief Reviews

Elisa Gabbert (pictured above) is a young poet whose work I’ve been loving for awhile. Several years back I blogged in some detail about her chapbook Thanks For Sending The Engine. Since then I’ve been following her writing closely, and these days she has many more avidly interested readers both of her poems and, lately, her blog:

After publishing several collaborative poetry projects with Kathleen Rooney, Gabbert’s first full-length collection, The French Exit, came out this year. The high energy and exuberantly dark poems in TFSTE are reprinted here, along with a number of other pieces. The book shows a much larger range in Gabbert’s poetic talents than has been on display before now. The biting, mordant psychosocial wit with which readers of her earlier work are familiar is surrounded by poems with a more sombre and melancholy tone, not to mention with some genuinely, although casually, brilliant social and even philosophical insights.

Still, Gabbert’s energetic sharpness on the level of the phrase and the line remains remarkably consistent. “Mysteried distance, resistant distance: it glimmers/ out of visibility. The distance that runs seamingly/ along all my images like a fold. Like a hairline/ crack down my mirror———I am always/ looking at the distance, at it splitting me.” There are more than enough new poems and, as she herself might put it, new moves, in this book for The French Exit to be a crucial purchase even for those who already own TFSTE. For those who don’t, it’s even more of a must.


Gabbert’s partner, John Cotter, has also recently published a book, his first, a novella. Under The Small Lights is not the kind of book I usually review, but I have to admit that I found it an enjoyably wicked quick read, though people wanting literature that deals with the “most profound questions of our time” should look elsewhere. The story is set in summer mainly, and the book will serve just fine as a summer read at any time of year in which one might want that.

I doubt many people will like the characters in Under The Small Lights, but we’re not supposed to. This narrative of the young, aimless, and well to do, with their desperately literary sexual desires and confusions, pinions its subjects keenly, while somehow managing to teeter effectively on the edge between satire and believable sympathy. Think Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero if the characters in that book had gone to the country for the summer and hopelessly imagined themselves the next great writers of America.

Some of the descriptions in the book’s key slapstick action incident seem unfocused, but it’s dialogue that drives this novel. “‘Jack,’ she said. ‘You’re not still trying to get into her pants.’/’No.’/’Because you shouldn’t’/’Right.’/’Because they’re married.’” The characters don’t do much besides get drunk, have confused sex, and talk to each other constantly about themselves and about the books they’re not writing and probably aren’t going to.

My friend, the Boston-born novelist and poet Elizabeth Burns, once told me how often she had heard someone say something along the lines of, “I want to write a version of Kerouac’s On The Road about my summer at the Cape.” If you find that as funny as I do, you’ll want to read Under The Small Lights.


I feel uncertain about Ron Silliman’s linking of Chris McCreary to New Thing (Silliman prefers “New Precisionist”) writers such as Joseph Massey and Graham Foust. McCreary’s poems are certainly often minimalist, and work with precision and understatement and tightly and oddly torqued phrasing, but on the evidence of McCreary’s latest book, Undone: A Fakebook, I’m not sure how much further the comparison goes. Whereas those writers are dour, observational and rather insistently non-urban (though Foust is significantly ironic) in their highlighting of male isolation, McCreary’s poems are poems of the city, urbane, ambiguous, witty, and populated--and most of all, much more whimsical.

There’s a devilish, almost child-like humor to many of McCreary’s poems in Undone, with a certain degree of lightness and joy. It’s a kind of humor I sometimes associate with parenthood, a way in which adult writers can tap into the casual surrealist fantasy-scapes of a youthful mind. Not that McCreary isn’t capable of sly, cutting, and very much adult insight into contemporary American urban alienation. “Common knowledge/as the lowest of limbos. Wall or cardboard bricks/as approximate graffiti. Screaming Green Gorilla/did the Dance Dance Revolution,/ left an Etch-/ A-Sketch in my teddy bear’s/intestines.” As a sort of break in the tight torquing, the several prose satires in the Great American Songbook section are howlingly funny for anybody interested in pop music criticism.


Laura Moriarty’s A Tonalist is a significant contemporary work that not only deserves a longer review than I have time to give it but, if there is any justice in contemporary poetics (and sadly, there usually isn’t), should be the subject of much future in-depth critical analysis. A multi-part, deeply interconnected long work in multiple sections, A Tonalist is both a beautiful long lyric poem with a stunning array of keenly observed physical details and social situations, and a poetics essay, written both in poetry and prose, that makes a case for what a tonalist writer is. “I remind him that Jocelyn is writing a book of beginnings and he remembers that he knows that and likes the idea. I say there is something to be said for directionality/ Too exhausted to speak/Or sleep we listen to/The strangely sourceless airborne/Radio or TV endlessly/ I dream when I don’t sleep less clearly./ “Too much emphasis on the tonal,” the radio/ Says, “Creates a meandering quality/ Complicating the experience of the auditor.”

The book also quotes generously from other writers whose work Moriarty feels is crucial to the context she is trying to acknowledge, and highlights especially their involvement in “elegy and utopianism.” A Tonalist explores and defines both a poetic terrain and a geographical and cultural and political one, detailing Moriarty’s concept of Tonalist poetry both through the fact that A Tonalist is itself an example of such a poem and because it talks about the work of other writers who have helped move her towards the concept.

I picked up this book at the Miami of Ohio Postmoot Conference in April, and told Moriarty there that I had to admit, embarrassingly, that I didn’t know what it meant to be a tonalist. Now I have a better idea, at least to the extent that any firm idea of the concept is crucial, which maybe it isn’t.

Still, although it’s impossible to summarize the wide range of her richly tentative reflections, on the most basic level Moriarty combines the unique quality of light found in some Northern California paintings with the work of Bay Area writers. Moriarty’s concept of “A Tonalist” (for her, the phrase is always capitalized) deals with shades, subtleties, nuances, wrinkles, and of course tones, all of which tend to undermine the way U.S. poetry is often still discussed in binaries, such as avant vs. mainstream, or lyric vs. narrative vs. experimental, or literature vs. criticism, among many others. And although Moriarty’s focus is heavily on the Bay Area, when she suggests, at one point, that there are maybe many tonalist writers who don’t recognize themselves as such, I felt cheered, because I think, in some aspects of my work (and that “some” is crucial), that I may often be A Tonalist too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brief Reviews

My longtime colleague at The George Washington University, where I used to teach, Daniel Gutstein (pictured above) shares with me an interest in writing across genres. He has published poetry, fiction, and drama, as well as work in cross-genre forms as the prose poem. Although his work has appeared in numerous literary journals, and several of his chapbooks have been brilliant surprises, oddly enough Non/Fiction is his first full-length collection. The book veers between short fiction and memoir, and between story and prose poetry, blurring those boundaries as it goes. The pieces explore a variety of locales, including Washington D.C., Florida, and the American west, as well as Israel and elsewhere overseas. The bulk of these pieces focus on a working class milieu, although the stories cross with some frequency into describing characters living a creepily rootless yuppiedom. The book is particularly startling for its array of cultural mixing; in these stories, identity is always in flux, even as some characters rigorously assert its stability. The pieces are full of the unexpected, both in the quirkiness of the characters and in the purposefully torqued, poetic prose. “I’d sat on the stone with Mrs. Kelly, the black landlady who recalled the nervous white boy stepping, bayonet-first, beside the convenience mart. Part of the town bruised, she explained, her grey-black hair combined into a grey-black knot. “ It’s not too much of a stretch to say that in its idiosyncracy and gnarled prose and concern with character and culture, the work here resembles the short fiction of the great Isaac Babel. At times the twisting language even takes on a postmodern opacity. A unique book by a unique writer who’s capable equally of the outrageous and the poignant.

I read it back in early spring, but A Model Year, by Gina Myers, is as good a first book of poems as I’ve come across in awhile and has stayed clearly in my mind. The poems are understated, often memorable, and frequently haunted and melancholy, which may come as a surprise to those who know Myers’ energetic work in social activism and local arts in her troubled state of Michigan. There’s a casual tone these poems that can be associated with the New York School (Myers lived for a time in NYC), but the social environment and individual consciousness on display here has a moodiness that seems more connected to Midwestern financial and emotional dourness, and the poems featured a more denuded landscape than one typically finds in New York School verse. “April snow & no/way to go, no turning/forward, motion lost/flickers across the wind-/shield & is forgotten./No scene waiting/to be seen, no unforgiving/space, empty drawer/& shutters shut.” The book’s final, title piece, “A Model Year,” attempts a more extended sequence, and almost stalls on its carefully crafted restraint, but ultimately works because, like in the rest of these poems, underneath the melancholy is a fierce desire to live a meaningful, socially engaged life.

Two chapbooks by Sandra Simonds, Used White Wife and the self-published Made From Scratch, are fascinating and energetic reads. In UWW, Simonds’ flair for high octane, historically detailed Surrealism takes a flarfy turn for the outrageously comical: “You’re not supposed to fuck your first cousin, expert/ on Reform Era pamphlets,/ or eat an oatmeal-flavored Powerbar on/the toilet. Even my dog, Scruffy-Pie, knows/not to shit in the room/where you sleep or sleep/where you’re not supposed to think of the clitoris.” UWW is hilarious, but also psychological insightful, a rollick through the ages that turns up a lot of hidden cultural embarrassments. Made From Scratch has a few outrageous moments, but seems more personal, historically specific, and sad by turns, and at times its emotional power runs deeper than that in the other chap. Both books feature Simonds’ startlingly rich vocabulary. She’s a writer who is only continuing to grow into the range of what she can do.

Another impressive first full-length collection, Occultations, by David Wolach, is more hardcore avant than the above books. The range in Wolach’s work is first and foremost formal, combining surprising uses of spacing, multiple overlays of text, and visual art, among much else. The book’s first of several extended poem sequence, “transit” is both the most lyrical and the most powerful and direct in the book, dealing with the author’s physical pain but also revealing a social awareness that’s too broad and informed to be solely an exploration of individual body and self, and the poem’s lyricism remains jaggedly unconventional. “What are we to do now/dark drawing its own outline/the wild/ child tapping terror pane/ your lands and grooves/ evidence/ of hallas, your hands their re-appearing/act/ leaves glass behind leaves all possible codes behind/” The later, even more experimental pieces are fascinating as well, and are full of political insight and outrage, as well as a sophisticated understanding of theory and culture. If there’s something occasionally a bit first bookish about Occultations, it may be that at times, Wolach wants to throw everything at once at the reader. The book is full of busy pages, to put it mildly, and the greater minimalism of the final piece, “ book alter (ed),” makes for a crucial contrast that wraps up the work nicely. Still, Wolach takes a lot of necessary risks, and Occultations is a demanding, rewarding book.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cati Porter, Jeanine Webb, and Louis M. Schmidt at Agitprop August 7

We hope you can join us this, Saturday, August at 7 p.m. for a reading by JEANINE WEBB and CATI PORTER. An opening reception for LOUIS M. SCHMIDT's "We're All in This Together for Ourselves," on display at the gallery, will follow the reading.

Jeanine Webb's work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Antioch Review, Louis Liard Magazine, the San Diego Writers' 2010 anthology A Year in Ink and online in the Summer 2010 issues of The Latent Print and WTF PWM. She holds a M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, where she taught workshops in making poems. Her manuscript Flash Paper was a finalist for the 2008 Cider Press Review Book Award. Her work concerns images of apocalypse in relation to late capitalism, sci-fi, connectivity, surf culture, historical realities as shaped by technologies, modern mythography, media spin and pop culture. Jeanine lives in San Diego. Look for the literary magazine she'll be editing, Greater Than Or Equal To, which should exist at sometime late this summer or in early fall.

Cati Porter is the author of a collection of poems, Seven Floors Up (Mayapple Press, 2008), as well as the chapbooks small fruit songs: prose poems (Pudding House Publications, 2008), (al)most delicious, an ekphrastic series after Modigliani's nudes (forthcoming in 2010 from Dancing Girl Press), and what Desire makes of us, a series written during NaPoWriMo 2009 (forthcoming from Ahadada books as an e-book with illustrations by her sister, Amy Joy Payne). She is founder & editor of Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry . In June 2010 she will receive her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles.

Louis M. Schmidt is an artist currently based in San Diego, CA. His work addresses personal and societal unhappiness, the many failures of history and myths of progress and upward mobility. Schmidt's most recent body of work, "We're All in This Together For Ourselves," is an immersive, mixed-media wall drawing that presents itself as a cyclic fragment, a frozen section of negative feedback loop that evinces a dark pool of truths about humans, about Americans, about the now to which our ideologies have delivered us.

Please share this information with friends and any interested parties.

Agitprop readings are free, but donations to the gallery are always welcome.

We hope to see you there and for festivities before and afterward!

Saturday, August 7, 7 p.m. reading (8 p.m. Art Opening)
2837 University Ave in North Park (Entrance on Utah, behind Glenn’s
San Diego, CA * 92104 * 619.384.7989

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unnatural Acts: Events at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions

I'll be participating in the Friday and Saturday events for Unnatural Acts, part of the Les Figues Press Not Content project (, which is described by its curators as "A series of text projects curated by Les Figues Press as part of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions year-long initiative Public Interest."

Here's the full list of events and participants for Unnatural Acts:

July 21-August 11
Los Angeles, California

Taking its name from the historic collaborative writing marathons led by Bernadette Mayer and others in NYC during 1972-73, Unnatural Acts will explore the themes of hunger, war, and desire through public acts of collaboration.

Beginning with two days of installation and performance by Amina Cain and Jennifer Karmin, a group of eleven writers/artists will gather on the third day to write together over the course of eight hours.  In a daily ritual inaugurated on the fourth day, the outline of a new person’s body will be traced onto the bodies of text until the exhibit closes on August 11th.


July 21: Amina Cain
Installation (12-5)
Hunger Texts Read in the Dark performance (5-5:30pm)

July 22: Jennifer Karmin
Installation (12-5)
4000 Words 4000 Dead street performance (5-6pm)

July 23: Unnatural Acts
8 hours of collaborative writing (12-8pm)
Collaborators include: Harold Abramowitz, Tisa Bryant, Amina Cain, Teresa Carmody, Saehee Cho, Kate Durbin, K. Lorraine Graham, Jennifer Karmin, Laida Lertxundi, India Radfar, and Mark Wallace.

July 24: Presentations
Artists’ Talk (2-3pm)
Collaborative Reading (4-6pm)
Readers include: Harold Abramowitz, Tisa Bryant, Amina Cain, Teresa Carmody, Kate Durbin, K. Lorraine Graham, Jennifer Karmin, India Radfar, and Mark Wallace.

AMINA CAIN is the author of the short story collection I Go To Some Hollow (Les Figues Press, 2009), and a forthcoming chapbook, Tramps Everywhere (Insert Press/PARROT SERIES).  A recording of her story “Attached to a Self” was included in the group show A Diamond in the Mud at Literaturhaus Basel in Switzerland in 2008; other work has appeared in publications such as 3rd Bed, Action Yes, Denver Quarterly, onedit, Sidebrow, and Wreckage of Reason: Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers.  She lives in Los Angeles.

JENNIFER KARMIN's text-sound epic, Aaaaaaaaaaalice, was published by Flim Forum Press in 2010. She curates the Red Rover Series and is co-founder of the public art group Anti Gravity Surprise.  Her multidisciplinary projects have been presented across the U.S., Japan, and Kenya. A proud member of the Dusie Kollektiv, she is the author of the Dusie chapbook Evacuated: Disembodying Katrina. Walking Poem, a collaborative street project, is featured online at How2. In Chicago, Jennifer teaches creative writing to immigrants at Truman College and works as a Poet-in-Residence for the public schools.


Harold Abramowitz's recent publications include Not Blessed (Les Figues Press) and A House on a Hill {A House on a Hill, Part One} (Insert Press). Harold writes collaboratively as part of SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO, and co-edits the short-form literary press eohippus labs.

Tisa Bryant is author of Unexplained Presence (Leon Works, 2007), co-editor, with Ernest Hardy, of the anthology War Diaries (AIDS Project Los Angeles, 2010), co-editor of The Encyclopedia Project's Encyclopedia Vol. 2 F-K, due out Fall 2010, and has work forthcoming in Animal Shelter 2 and Mixed Blood.  Her creative process demands she write longhand, one of her favorite words is 'autochthonous,' and she teaches in the MFA Writing Program at CalArts.

Teresa Carmody is the author of Requiem (Les Figues Press, 2005), and two chapbooks:  Eye Hole Adore (PS Books, 2008), and Your Spiritual Suit of Armor by Katherine Anne (Woodland Editions, 2009). She lives in Los Angeles and is co-director of Les Figues Press.

Saehee Cho holds a BA in Literature/Writing from The University of California, San Diego and an MFA in Writing from Calarts.  She has just completed her first collection of short stories tentatively titled Form, Composite.  Her work has been featured in Shrapnel and Ex Nihilo.

Kate Durbin is a writer & fashion artist. Her full-length collection of poetry, The Ravenous Audience, is available from Akashic Books.

K. Lorraine Graham is the author of Terminal Humming (Edge Books). Visual work appeared in the 2008 Zaoem International Poetry Exhibition at the Minardschouwburg, Gent, Belgium and the Infusoria visual poetry exhibition in Brussels and Ghent, 2009.

Laida Lertxundi, (Bilbao, Spain) works on film making non-stories with non-actors that play with diegetic space and a particular sound and image syntax to create moments of downtime, of a time between events. Her work has been shown at MoMa, Lacma, Viennale and the New York Film Festival views of the Avant Garde among other places.

India Radfar is the author of four books of poetry: India Poem (Pir Press), the desire to meet with the beautiful (Tender Buttons Press), Breathe (Shivastan Publications) and most recently, Position & Relation (Station Hill/Barrytown Books) and one chapbook, 12 Poems That Were Never Written (Mind Made Books). She has lived in Los Angeles for the past 6 years.

Mark Wallace is the author and editor of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and essays. Most recently he has published a collection of tales, Walking Dreams, and a book of poems, Felonies of Illusion

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Portuguese Silence

Because I'm trying to finish a novel, and several reviews, and am also planning a fall trip to Portugal, I don't have much to say on this blog right now, and I don't have time to say it.

Silence has long been a key idea in Portugese literature and culture, and is one of the most commonly used concepts and images in Portugese poetry. Given the current silence on this blog, I thought I'd offer the above photo, not my own, as a case in point on the political and cultural complexities of silence.

I'm going to try to put up some short reviews here when I can find the time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gurlesque: the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics

There has already been a lot of discussion–and more than a bit of heated debate–about this anthology. Much of it has focused on the identity of the writers in the book: are they too white, too straight, too suburban, too American, too physically abled? The term “Gurlesque” has caused concern also: does its focus on girlhood subtly disempower women? Having read, and witnessed in person, many discussions about the Gurlesque long before the anthology itself was even in print, I was pleased to finally have a chance to read the book and take a look at the specifics of the poems.

The introductions by Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum seemed credible regarding both the creation of the term and the fact of the emergence of some suddenly common, but until then undescribed, features in contemporary women’s writing. The Gurlesque involves “writing about and through femininity in a new and exciting way,” according to Greenberg, a way that “brashfully, playfully, provocatively, indulgently” moves away from the “earnestness, sensitivity, and self-seriousness that marked many such poems stemming from Second Wave feminism.”

A great deal of work in the anthology hinges on the idea of self and identity and language as performance rather than essence. Through what Glenum describes as “hyperbole,” much of it seeks to break out of notions of proper behavior and language through which American women’s lives and writing still often remain closely guarded. While the degree of newness that the anthology represents may be an open question, a point that Greenberg herself acknowledges, both essays also find many historical and literary sources for the development of the Gurlesque approach, suggesting not so much an absolute break with the past as an intensification of some key concerns that more widely asserted themselves in the 1990s.

In reading the collected pieces, I noticed myself deciding which ones interested me more along several lines: level of energy (often intense); sense of rhythm and line; and description of the world with which the performed self is interacting. This last one was crucial, and surprised me a bit: I was most interested in those pieces that described others intriguingly as opposed to those that dwelt more absolutely on performance of self. Brenda Coultas, for instance, was represented by some of my favorite work in the whole anthology, and highlighted self as a performance within a dizzying array of social and family concerns (“I remember our pigs without the aid of hypnosis or memory drugs”). The more thoroughly interactive the self was with the world, and the more complexly that world was explored and exposed, the more I seemed to care how the self was performed. I suppose I could try here to assert some mainly specious distinction about social art vs. confessional art, as if discussing the self didn’t always also require involvement with things beyond the self. But my reasoning was probably simpler: in literature, as in life, I’m more interested in people who talk about things other than themselves.

I often especially enjoyed those poems that had more twist and surprise and kick in the lines. It’s difficult to think of someone doing more with rhythm than Catherine Wagner (“shudder out the little-girl/legs with a little/girl head mostly eyes, no ears,/bug brain, aimless/Send her to school”), and the tremendous movement in Dorothea Laskey’s work (“Instead no one is so weird/They have muscles/I write these poems instead of sitting in a bed/Sweaty all day/With men who are truly fuckable”) makes her pieces practically jump off the page. While some of her poems were a little rhythmically safer, Danielle Pafunda (“Slow me and fence it. I hock shop I gold play I leaking/valuables. There is a window, a roll call, a vile plastic stack.”) also worked in some pieces with an especially unique set of rhythms for which I can’t think of any immediate predecessors. Cathy Park Hong’s poems, not really possible to recreate well in blogger, had a precisely clipped sense of phrasing and spacing.  And Nada Gordon was represented well by some typically ragged, watch-this-fall-apart-but-not-quite flarf (“Sweet Kitty kiss my ghosts Kitty doesn’t like/the soup, Mama, but she sure likes the cream.")

Gurlesque is without doubt a hybrid anthology, making no significant distinctions between those writers whose work draws more on the history of avant garde poetics, or confessionalism, or from backgrounds in narrative prose. Much of the work also collapses distinctions between high, low and pop culture and art, while other pieces undermine distinctions between poetry and prose, or poetry and drama. Stacy Doris (“An ember falls from the chandelier onto the marquise’s (MARQIUSE “A”) bouffant and—poof—she’s burnt to a crisp”) and Kim Rosenfield “Miss Wiggles is a sensitive/large quantity of limpid urine”) had particularly unique approaches. There were also some very effective, primarily prose works: I loved the keen, psychologically disturbing descriptions of family and intimate others in the work of Geraldine Kim (“My parents were going to name me after the patron saint of fertility. Then when I came out they saw that I didn’t have a dick”) as well as the medieval carnival gone wild in some of Elizabeth Treadwell’s prose pieces (“dedication to giant grotto recreation of ussong the camera xo.”). The anthology also features a collection of Gurlesque visual art, which highlighted the range of cultural contexts in which Gurlesque work has appeared.

Overall, the energy level in the book was remarkable. The work of Ariana Reines (“Being a night inside of the mouth of a loved boy. Red black and shiny teeth with a tongue. The world of a loved boy has sense.”), less intriguing to me in terms of the world around the self that it describes, nonetheless has the power of a very high speed something or other whose path it would be dangerous to be in. Yet much of the rest of the writing here was only barely less intense. Some other pieces that I liked less, poetry or prose, felt a bit more wordy or leaden. Still, if one of the things that has haunted pretty much all anthologies promoting so-called hybrid work (a term which for me means something else than it may for others, which you can read about here) is a distaste for overly crude imagery and energy, there’s no shortage of that in this anthology.

Despite the debates about identity that surround the anthology, as crucial as they are (debates about which I’m not nearly as capable as others will be of offering a well-informed perspective), what readers will find in Gurlesque is a very impressive, often powerful collection of literature. It’s a much more impressive collection, in fact, than other recent anthologies of contemporary work that include poetry, from whatever place in the always contested world of literature they have come.

Monday, June 21, 2010

San Diego Museum of Art presents a reading by K. Lorraine Graham and Mark Wallace

San Diego Museum of Art Summer Salon Series
Thursday, June 24, 2010
7 pm

In conjunction with Agitprop Gallery, the Agitprop Reading Series is collaborating with the San Diego Museum of Art to present Thursday Summer Salons featuring contemporary artists and writers from Southern California. Museum admission is $12 for adults, $8 for students with college ID, and open to the public.

This Thursday, June 24, at 7 pm, writers Mark Wallace and K. Lorraine Graham will read from their recent work.

Mark Wallace is the author of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and essays. Temporary Worker Rides A Subway won the 2002 Gertrude Stein Poetry Award and was published by Green Integer Books. His critical articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, and he has co-edited two essay collections, Telling It Slant: Avant Garde Poetics of the 1990s, and A Poetics of Criticism. Most recently he has published a short story collection, Walking Dreams (2007), and a book of poems, Felonies of Illusion (2008). Forthcoming in early 2011 is his second novel, The Quarry and The Lot.

K. Lorraine Graham is a writer and visual artist. She is the author of Terminal Humming (Edge Books, 2009) and several chapbooks, including Large Waves to Large Obstacles, forthcoming from Take-Home Project. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Traffic, Area Sneaks, Foursquare and elsewhere. She currently lives in San Diego with her partner, Mark Wallace, and Lester Young, a pacific parrotlet.

During your visit will be able to explore the works of living artists and writers, participate in hands-on art making activities, enjoy a cocktail, and view the Museum's current exhibitions and collections. We invite the public to join some of the most exciting artists working in Southern California and immerse themselves in what's happening right now in our local art scene.

Artist Presentations will be occurring in the museum before and after the reading.

Judith Pedroza will recreate the block where she grew up in Mexico City in scale model with her work Marina Nacional 80.  Visitors will be invited to help her expand the work throughout the evening by adding additional buildings and roads.

And Michael Trigilio will present one of his video works.  Michael is a founding member of the independent radio project Neighborhood Public Radio, which was featured in the 2008 Whitney Biennial.

Directions and parking information are available on the SDMA website.

For more information about the Summer Salon Series, please visit:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Short Reviews

Two new chapbooks by Stephanie Rioux (pictured above at LA-Lit), the minimalist Sticks (Mindmade Books), and the very much not minimalist collection of prose poems My Beautiful Beds (Insert Press), confirm again that Rioux is one of the most interesting up-and-coming, too-little-known poets around. With its density, invented words, and linguistic games, as well as its focus on natural processes and sexuality and its almost Irish tone, My Beautiful Beds seems strikingly reminiscent of late James Joyce (reminding me how little contemporary literature has really taken up Joyceian experiments), although the context and concerns are more women-centered and defiant. “oft what swindles beds leaks; and ‘s fonder of reading gang fame; which blush on, inpillow, also that what, on which we gayly last so few doables.” If there’s a tiny bit of sealed-off, overly hermetic reach towards the past, it’s more than countered by an earthy, folky, but clearly linguistically risk-taking energy. Sticks, in contrast, features no more than a few words per page, suggestive and resonant even as they vanish: “one is minuscule” is what one whole page reads.

Gary L. McDowell’s They Speak of Fruit (Cooper Dillon Books) features conventional lyric poems, to a certain degree, although they also often make energetic and effective use of open field poetics. There’s a intriguing tension in these poems, not fully worked out it seems to me, between contemporary matter-of-factness, heightened deep image surrealist hyper sensitivity a la James Wright, and tough working guy rural context reminiscent of Jim Harrison. Still, the poems are full of lines both of great beauty and of understated bluntness, and McDowell is clearly a poet worth watching. “Until bones, your bones, fall to the ground, I’ll not show myself.”

Jane Sprague’s The Port Of Los Angeles (Chax Press) is an important work of contemporary poetry despite its modest size. A combination of materialist history, precise lyric detail, and restrained fierceness that’s by turns ironic, melancholy and angry, these poems trace conditions in Los Angeles from its port outward towards its larger cultural conditions and problems. Its documentary goals contain important information, yet the poetry is always more than simply a vehicle for conveying history. These are poems with powerful feeling and emotional exploration as well as intellect. They’re full of an incantatory and haunting energy: “we follow helicopter beams to the beach/we watch the bust from afar/watch sirens flare flickerblue/watched people handcuffed wade through water to beach to car to confinement/we watch the one who gets away/people locked containers."

Craig Santos Perez’s second book, from Unincorporated Territory (Saina) (Omnidawn), makes undeniably clear why so many people seem excited about his work, and why he’s a writer who  certainly will be going on to have a powerful effect on contemporary poetry. This is an impressive, even intimidating, book. Historically detailed about both the history of Guam and the history of his own family both in Guam and beyond, this is a book about politics, race, culture and the often grim facts about what goes undocumented and unheard—or worse, what does get documented, but in the most abusive and detached pseudo-objective and exploitative capitalist ways. These poems offer a powerful indictment of the history of U.S. misuse of Guam, its land, its water, and its citizens, and the combination of large-scale documentation and individual memoir make the damages brutally clear and often emotionally wrenching. The book works with the Chamorro language as well as English, and features a fascinating array of extreme aesthetic experiments. It’s difficult to capture the open-field poetics of these poems in the limited space options of a blog review. “i didn’t know ‘sea level’/would remind me of ‘shelter’/in the material sheaths of the body the smallest wave pronounces/’light derives from/what it touches.’” If ultimately I admired, respected, and liked this book more than I loved it, that may be because of the way the aesthetic affects sometimes seemed a bit after-the-fact. I wondered at times whether a less experimental approach would really have changed that much about what Perez is attempting in this book, and I wasn’t always certain that the aesthetic affects seemed essential.

I had never heard of Argentine poet Mercedes Roffé until her book, Like the Rains Come: Selected Poems 1987-2006 (Shearsman Books), translated by Janet Greenberg, arrived in the mail. I thought for a moment that despite its open-field poetics and very precise sense of line and break, these poems were going to be too conventionally high lyrical in tone, but I quickly moved beyond that to finding them much more unique and surprising. Although it’s drawn more in outline than fully (perhaps the result of being a fairly small Selected, although I have no information about the size of her total poetic output), a mythos and world view emerges in these poems, one that veers from grandly cosmic to politically tense to keenly focused on human interaction and emotion. The intellect in them is formidable, but also deceivingly subtle. Again, the book’s spacing and the limitations of blogger make it difficult to give an adequate portrayal through quotation. “Metaphor has died./Nothing resembles anything else./The smallest fraction of each atom engrossed in the task of accomplishing its minimum commandment.”It took me awhile to notice the depth and degree of information in these poems because of their refusal of grandstanding showiness. Roffé is a writer whom I hope more U.S. readers will come to know.