ISSUE NO. 4
November 30, 2006
[N.B. You can scroll down for all articles. But since this is a large issue, if it takes too long to upload the entire issue, you also can click on the individual links below to more quickly get to a review or article that interests you.]CONTENTS:EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION
From Eileen TabiosNEW REVIEWS
Steven Fama reviews THE NIGHT I DROPPED SHAKESPEARE ON THE CAT
by John Olson
Elizabeth Kate Switaj reviews THE END OF RUDE HANDLES
by Jen Tynes
Nicholas Manning reviews UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006
by Tom Beckett
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006
by Tom Beckett
Andrea Baker reviews LITTLE EASE
by Aaron McCollough
Jim McCrary reviews ON EARTH: LAST POEMS AND AN ESSAY
by Robert Creeley
David-Baptiste Chirot reviews SAINT GHETTO OF THE LOANS
by Gabriel Pomerand
Craig Perez reviews I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET THROUGH TO EVERYONE
by Anna Moschovakis
Eileen Tabios reviews SCRAWL
by Susana Gardner
Laurel Johnson reviews UNDER THE WANDERER'S STAR
by Sigman Byrd
Barbara Jane Reyes reviews GUTTED
by Justin Chin
J. LeClerc reviews GARNET LANTERNS
by Sally Rosen Kindred
Nicholas Manning reviews VAUDEVILLE
by Allyssa Wolf
Madeline Tiger reviews UNCOMMON GEOGRAPHY
by Therése Halscheid
Thomas Fink reviews INSIDE THE OUTSIDE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF AVANT-GARDE AMERICAN POETS
, Edited by Roseanne Ritzema
Eileen Tabios reviews BOYS, A-Z: A PRIMER
by Dan Waber
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews THE OBEDIENT DOOR
by Sean Finney
Lynn Strongin reviews AN APOLOGY FOR LOVING THE OLD HYMNS and HOUSEHOLD OF CONTINUANCE,
both by Jordan Smith
Allen Bramhall reviews MAINSTREAM by Michael Magee and MUSEE MECHANIQUE by Rodney Koeneke
Richard Lopez reviews MY SPACESHIP
, Edited by Mark Lamoreaux
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews THE AFTER-DEATH HISTORY OF MY MOTHER
by Sandy McIntosh
Craig Perez reviews DO NOT AWAKEN THEM WITH HAMMERS
by Lidija Dimkovska
Diane Lockward reviews SEEDPODS
by Glenna Luschei
Allen Bramhall reviews POST~TWYLA
by Jack Kimball
Jesse Crockett reviews POST~TWYLA
by Jack Kimball
Susana Gardner reviews ORGANIC FURNITURE CELLAR
by Jessica Smith
Leny M. Strobel reviews NOT EVEN DOGS
by Ernesto Priego
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews OPERA: POEMS 1981 - 2002
by Barry Schwabsky
Michelle Bautista reviews OPERA: POEMS 1981 - 2002
by Barry Schwabsky
William Allegrezza reviews ON THE FLY
by Amy King
Julie R. Enszer reviews MARBLE GODDESSES WITH TECHNICOLOR SKINS
by Corinne Robins
Lynn Strongin reviews NECESSARY ANGELS
by Carolyn Maisel
Dion Farquhar reviews INCESSANT SEEDS
by Sheila Murphy
Steven Fama reviews BIRD-BOOK
by Jessica Smith
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews THE GOOD CITY
by Sharon Olinka
Eileen Tabios reviews NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY by Thomas Fink and OTAGES by John Bloomberg-Rissman
Beatriz Tabios reviews UNPROTECTED TEXTS
by Tom Beckett
John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews WARP SPASM
by Basil King
Laurel Johnson reviews BREAKING THE FEVER
by Mary Mackey
Rhett Pascual reviews MUSEUM OF ABSENCES
by Luis H. Francia
Eileen Tabios reviews SIGNED EVEN AS A WAITING
by Paul Klinger
Erica Kaufman reviews THE ANGER SCALE
by Katie Degentesh
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews GAGARIN STREET
by Piotr Gwiazda
Fionna Doney Simmonds reviews THE GOOD CAMPAIGN
by Amy King
Nicholas Downing reviews EPISODES
by Mark Young
Vanessa Kenyon reviews A BOOK OF HER OWN: WORDS AND IMAGES TO HONOR THE BABAYLAN
by Leny M. Strobel
Julie R. Enszer reviews THE FIFTH VOICE
by Pamela Hart, Allen Strous, Victoria Givotovsky and Noah Kucij
William Allegrezza reviews METEORIC FLOWERS
by Elizabeth Willis
Julie R. Enszer reviews NATURAL DEFENSES and FIRE IS FAVORABLE TO THE DREAMER,
both by Susan Terris
Lynn Strongin reviews NOW YOU CARE by Di Brandt; SPEAKING OF POWER: THE POETRY OF DI BRANDT, Edited by Tanis MacDonald; and SEEDPODS by Glenna Luschei
Eileen Tabios reviews A PLACE TO STAND
by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Susana Gardner reviews A BEDSIDE GUIDE TO NO TELL MOTEL
Edited by Reb Livingston and Molly Arden
Jim McCrary reviews BOOK OF SKETCHES
by Jack Kerouac
Mark Young reviews WOMEN OF THE BEAT GENERATION by Brenda Knight and
SAN FRANCISCO'S BURNING by Helen Adam FEATURED POETS
Guillermo Parra presents JUAN SANCHEZ PELAEZ
Eric Gamalinda presents IAN BRAND
Paolo Javier presents AARON PECKFROM OFFLINE TO ONLINE: REPRINTED REVIEWS
David Buuck reviews IN THE HEART OF ANOTHER COUNTRY
by Etel Adnan
Joyelle McSweeney reviews the time at the end of this writing and 60 lv bo(e)mbs by Paolo Javier
Steffi Drewes reviews like wind loves a window
by Andrea Baker
Elizabeth Treadwell reviews POEM FOR THE END OF TIME AND OTHER POEMS
by Noelle Kocot
Christine Hamm reviews PIECES OF AIR IN THE EPIC
by Brenda HillmanROASTING THE EDITOR
John Bloomberg-Rissman reviews REPRODUCTIONS OF THE EMPTY FLAGPOLE
by Eileen R TabiosINSIDE BACK COVERWoof Woof!OUTSIDE BACK COVERPurrrrrr.....
FROM THE EDITOR
WITH MUCH TONGUES IN CHEEK
I am purrrr
-ed to announce that this issue presents poetry books that, for the first time in Galatea Resurrects (GR)
, are receiving their third reviews or engagements. I am open to GR
publishing more than one review of the same publication because I believe that such deepens the engagement with the work. The first publications to get reviewed for the third time in GR
UNPROTECTED TEXTS: Selected Poems 1978–2006 by Tom Beckett
Museum of Absences by Luis H. Francia
OPERA: Poems 1981-2002 by Barry Schwabsky
Tom's UNPROTECTED TEXTS
holds the special charm of receiving three reviews in one issue -- and in the issue released right after his book's release! I can attest that two reviewers said that the book's unique bookmark, which is accompanied by a condom
, helped interest them into reading the book...upon which the reviewers discovered much poems to respect! Transparency Alert:
My press, Meritage Press
, is the fortunate publisher of Tom's book -- so, I need to preen as I obviously hit on a successful marketing tactic for the poetry book: the condom. Whatever. As Madison Avenue long has proven: Sex sells.
As books receive more engagements, it's logical that not all will be positive. Response to poetry is sufficiently subjective that different readers can disagree on the same work. Still, I know that negative reviews can hurt the authors. So, as an experiment a few months ago, I commissioned seven million of my best friends to write a negative review on one of my books. I asked seven million as I found it difficult to imagine how anyone could have anything negative to say about my poems (pause to delicately sip the hot coffee
). Much to my surprise, all seven million replied they could do it -- these are the same best friends who've always complimented my work. Hmmm
, I thought. Still, the distinct majority of my friends recovered from insanity before this issue's deadline, such that only one person became lucid enough to send me a review. Thank you, I think, to John Bloomberg-Rissman for reviewing my Reproductions of The Empty Flagpole
Although, I have to say that now that I see what John says about my book (and Reproductions
happens to be the most favorably reviewed ever of my 14 poetry collections to date), I see the wisdom of continuing my original policy of not having my books eligible for review in GR
since I edit it. John's review (under the one-time "Roast The Editor" section) is the last review to be featured in this issue -- may your reading eyes get too tired to scroll down there. But seriously, this is to suggest to poets who've experienced criticism: don't be discouraged; look at the company with which you're sharing the Sun's heat ... and light! (Hmm: now why is that coffee getting hotter, rather than cooling down, over time?)
As I continue to sing about Moiself, I am also delighted to announce that I WON MY BET! I won my bet with Senor Cynic-You-Know-Who-You-Are. To wit, this issue of GR
presents more new reviews than did the third issue! Here are the purrr-generating stats:Issue 1:
27 reviews Issue 2:
39 new reviews (one book was reviewed twice by different reviewers)Issue 3:
49 new reviews (two books were each reviewed twice by different reviewers)Issue 4:
61 new reviews (one book was reviewed thrice, and three books were each reviewed twice by different reviewers)
I love upward trajectories -- thank you to all the volunteer reviewers for making this possible. I would have thought it'd be difficult to beat the third issue's 49 new reviews -- and it was. I even snared my own mother to do a "review" (so to speak), and it turns out that I didn't need her. This, of course, is my poetics -- be blind if you're going to play poetry poker. Which is to say, I feel that Poetry is also about Faith.
Of the new reviews, the following were generated from review copies sent to GR
Issue 1: 9 out of 27 new reviews
Issue 2: 25 out of 39 new reviews
Issue 3: 27 out of 49 new reviews
Issue 4: 41 out of 61 new reviews
So I continue to encourage publishers and authors to send in review copies -- reviewers from around the world are paying attention (indeed, this issue presents the first participation from writers living in France, Australia and Canada). For information on submission and review copies, go check out Galatea's Purse
This issue also presents, for the first time, reviews written as poems. But of course!
Lastly, please feel free to email me or put in Comments section any errors or publisher web sites information related to the books. I might have been distracted by the newly-started Holiday Season as I was working with this issue. Speaking of which, do you think that, maybe, Gabriela and Achilles don't like these red deer antlers?
I certainly hope reading through this issue will elicit different responses than those absolutely tortured expressions on Moi puppies' faces!
With much Love, Fur and Poetry,
St. Helena, CA
November 30, 2006
THE NIGHT I DROPPED SHAKESPEARE ON THE CAT by JOHN OLSON
STEVEN FAMA ReviewsThe Night I Dropped Shakespeare on the Cat by John Olson (Calamari Press, 2006)The Night I Dropped Shakespeare on the Cat
is not for the faint of heart. John Olson is an ardent explorer of language for whom poetry is “a whirl of energy in a shell of sound.” He embraces impulse and his poems thrive on autonomy. As he puts it, “Bees moving in and out of a hive. Words moving in and out of the mind.”
I first learned about John Olson in early 2001 from Philip Lamantia. Philip told me that Olson was “extraordinary,” had “made a discovery,”and was writing “the greatest prose poetry [he’d] ever read.” TNIDSOTC
is Olson’s third book of prose poems in three years, and at 160 pages -- comprising 70 works, including an essay on poetics -- it is the largest of the bunch. He is clearly on a roll. TNIDSOTC
includes many kinds of prose poems. There are meditations on particular things, narratives, autobiographical pieces, poems responding to art, and philosophical reveries. There are poems that mix these genres and poems that can’t be classified at all. You never know page-to-page what you will find. This unpredictability is a big part of why the book is so fun and such a challenge.
The poems which meditate on particular things, such as “City of Water," “Unconscious,” “Laundry,” and “Starlings,” are among the more conventional works in the book. Francis Ponge is the obvious precursor in this genre, but Olson writes with more energy and stronger beats. His poems are from the age of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n roll.
“City of Water” is presumably about Seattle, where Olson has lived for the last three decades. The poem engagingly evokes the region’s foremost geographic feature (over 40 percent of the area is water) and its well-earned (although usually over-stated) reputation for wet weather. It begins, “I live in a city of water. Water in all its forms. Vapor, clouds, drizzle. Fountains, rivers, lakes. Inlets, ports, sounds. There is water everywhere.”
The poem continues for a page, mostly in short vigorous anaphoric sentences. Olson riffs on the ubiquity of liquid in his city, using sharp details and poetic leaps that are hallmarks of his writing. Here’s an excerpt:
“Water punctuating the earth in commas. Puddles promiscuous as nickels. Puddles impertinent as pickles. Water streaked with whorls of delinquent oil. Everywhere the sheen and luster of water. Rivers in reveries of water. Water pushed to extremes. Water falling from cliffs. Water sprayed over melons. Water in beads on the blade of a fern. Water in rivulets on a window. Water impelling a current water moving in a kind of languor water moving reflectively from rock to rock.”
The poem ends with an unexpected image of movement and stasis, enlightenment and color: “Water wiggled under a Buddha in jade.” Seattle ought to pass a resolution making “City of Water” its official poem.
A few works in TNIDSOTC
, such as “The New Neighbors” and “Monsieur Dupont,” are poetic short stories. “Monsieur Dupont” is an entertaining yarn about a poet with a big house who travels through time (so yes, it’s a sci-fi prose poem too). This paragraph from the poem-story seems to reflect Olson’s own views:
“There are numerous advantages to being a poet. Poets can work at home. It may be to one’s advantage to go out into the world occasionally to seek imagery and wisdom, but on balance, the information that goes into a poem is not limited to the debris and data of external reality. Much of what goes into a poem is spun from the silk of one’s own mind.”
In addition to the stories and poems about things, TNIDSOTC
also has a few works that respond to art. “Miro’s Blues” concerns a series of large paintings (Blue I, II, III
) by the Spanish surrealist and is especially impressive. For almost ten pages Olson puts the paintings under a microscope and launches reveries about what he sees. Here’s an excerpt about Blue II; typical for Olson, its associational train is both focused and freewheeling:
“Running diagonally across the canvas, from right to left, is a thin black line. It is barely perceptible. It is so thin and delicate that it assumes the power of eternity. A skeleton trumpeting death. The joy of candy. Spray from a rock. Electricity in lemons. A head full of heaven.”TNIDSOTC
also has a few purely autobiographical poems. The book’s title piece is six long paragraphs concerning B.B. King heard at a distance, seeing the Rolling Stones on French TV, the spin of information on CNN, classified ads for sex, the movie version of Julius Caesar, the meaning of “that delicious space we call fiction,” and, yes, the night Olson dropped Shakespeare (the heavy Riverside edition, accidentally) on his cat. This last scenario may cause alarm, but without giving anything away I can assure everyone that no animal was harmed in the making of the poem.
Another autobiographical poem is “Philip Lives: A Lament for Lamantia.” Written after the San Francisco surrealist’s 2005 death, it is a moving remembrance and celebration of a poet who Olson obviously greatly admires. (Olson’s poetic and aesthetic pantheon includes many innovators; he has published poems or essays acknowledging the importance of Rimbaud, Stein, Ashbery, Mac Low, Dylan (Tarantula
), and Dubuffet, among others.) “Philip Lives” also shows how Olson allows his impulsive poetic energy to take over. Here’s a paragraph from near the start of the poem; notice how its simple directness pivots and takes off:
“Philip lived and breathed poetry. He called poetry a miracle in words. Which is precisely what it is. A miracle in words. Rhapsodies of pain passionate wavelengths tortured minerals sublimated into bubbling autonomy. Delicious anomalies paradisiacal pancakes morning prayer in the bowl of dawn. Fireworks in Mexican villages. The aroma of dragons. Analogues parallels pantisocratic parakeets.”TNIDSOTC
also has poems that are philosophical reveries (for example, “A Bee Is a Predicate With Wings”). It also has poems that begin as one type of poem (a Ponge-like piece, for example) but then bend or twist into something else. Olson is unpredictable even within the poems themselves.
The majority of the poems in TNIDSOTC
don’t fit into the categories already discussed, or perhaps any category at all. I call these unclassifiable works “out there.” The term is used as shorthand for the poems’ singular wildness and nonconformity. Olson in “The Fabric of Fabrication” writes that “anything can be constructed out of words.” In the “out there” poems he shows just how immeasurable and mysterious “anything” can be when built with language in the free play of imagination.
In the “out there” poems, sentences usually have no overt connection to one another, and the same can be true of at least some words within the sentences. “Meniscus,” a more or less typical example of the “out there” poems, begins as follows:
“The flamboyance of trout awakens the cadence of water. It is a symptom of birch. Piano and rocking chair confirm the belt of Orion. The fungus did to the salami what the salami did to the harmonica of fable. It became a scrap of royalty, an amaryllis by the bay. Everything turned quiet as a mountain trumpet.”
The poem continues in this way for more than a page. Olson relentlessly introduces images and associations, stretching and re-inventing language and meaning.
Some readers will be put off by the “out there” poems’ mix of wild energy and experiment. Those looking for messages or logical development will be disappointed. Olson at least gives fair warning to readers in a few sentences towards the end of “Delinquent Circuitry,” the first poem in the book. “Do you seek meaning and wisdom in a poem?,” he asks, and then writes, “I seek the occurrence of sound in protein. In propulsion. In bas-relief.”
The only way to take these “out there” poems are on their own terms. Readers able to love them as they are -- with their sui generis
energetic oddness, indeterminancy, freedom and occasional warts -- will find them compelling and fun. They are uncompromising invigorating adventures into the possible. Each poem is “a leopard of thought moving . . . through a jungle of words.” That’s a quotation from Olson’s “This Other World: An Essay On Artistic Autonomy,” a seven page essay on his poetics which ends the book (and from which the quotations in the first paragraph of this review are taken).
All the poems in TNIDSOTC
are marked by an almost otherworldly richness of language. Not rich in an overly-luxurious or heavy way, like caviar or chocolate mousse, but something far more nutritious and necessary. Olson’s prose poems are mother’s milk for healthy imaginations. His sentences are full of life. Life that is eruptive, wiggly, maniacal, and unquantifiable, to again borrow words Olson himself uses, in “This Other World,” to describe his writing.
Olson writes in “Free Will Is Not A Profession” that “astonishing coincidences surge ceaselessly everywhere.” His dedication to this aspect of our existence, especially as it manifests within language itself, animates his writing. Olson’s sentences, particularly in the “out there” poems, are full of surprising chance encounters between words and images. “Values in the egret city were such flippers as to hair the swells with suites of honeyed obscurity,” the first sentence of “Other Than Carrots,” is a typical example.
Occasionally, the surge of coincidences comes so fast that sentences are pared down to a word or two or three. The last part of a paragraph in “A Bee Is a Predicate With Wings,” for example, has a sentence of conventional length (“An aperture in the mind dilates into orchards and monkeyshines”) and then the following: “Resolute buccaneers. Rope and canvas. Mermaids. Fiddles. Verbs.” This staccato not only drums up rhythmic variety but also serves as an object lesson of the astonishing surge that nourishes Olson’s poems.
Olson only sparingly uses certain of the poet’s tools, such as metaphor and simile. But when he does, watch out! “Time is but a jackknife between mayhem and rhapsody,” Olson asserts in “Native Emulsion.” In “Absorption Spectrum” he writes, “Reading is like pouring a famished eye on a page of fluorescence and ore.” Pierre Reverdy, who counseled poets to bring together the most distant and distinct realities, surely would approve.
One tool not used sparingly is sound. Sound may be the outstanding feature of TNIDSOTC
. Most of Olson’s poems beg to be read aloud. The sounds are varied and can be huge. The first sentence of “The Conservation of Strangeness” reads, “It is keen and convincing to quiver a who.” I’ve been repeating that aloud to myself and friends for weeks now. I love how the hard consonance and other alliterations resolve into a hoot-owl exhalation: “It is keen and convincing to quiver a who.”
Olson unleashes an onomatopoeic ornithological alliteration for the ages in “The New Neighbors,” a lovely long rant about the people who moved into the apartment upstairs. Near the end of the poem he describes the noises he hears, including the mating calls and snoring of frogs (the new neighbors are quite unusual), and then writes:
“To this was added the cacophony of birds. Thousands of birds. Golden-rumped tinker barbets, Burchell’s coucals, Klass’s cuckoos, spotted dikkops, purple-crested louries, and tambourine doves.”
The extraordinary vigor of this passage is emblematic of how words rock and sing in TNIDSOTC
as a whole.
With its variety and number of poems, overall length, and richness of language, TNIDSOTC
is massive and dense. It can take weeks to take in its many pieces. This may discourage readers. These days, a poetry book is commonly a short chap or a 100 page or less perfect-bound edition. Although I sometimes prefer a quick hit of a writer’s work, or a longer focused collection, I am grateful that Olson published this profuse potpourri of prose poetry. It’s a book to read not for day or a week, but a season or two, and to re-read for a long, long time.
John Olson has earned a measure of recognition in his hometown of Seattle. Two years ago he received a “genius award” from the city’s weekly newspaper, and currently his writing notebooks are on display at the University of Washington’s Henry Museum. But elsewhere his work is not nearly as well appreciated. This is partly due to the fact that Olson was a late bloomer in terms of publication. His first book (a chap) did not appear until just before his 50th birthday. Next year, he will turn 60. I hope he has a very long life. His poems, I believe, most certainly will.
Steven Fama lives in San Francisco and recently became eligible to join AARP. He reads lots and lots of poetry.
THE END OF RUDE HANDLES by JEN TYNES
ELIZABETH KATE SWITAJ Reviews The End of Rude Handles by Jen Tynes(Red Morning Press, 2006)
In The End of Rude Handles
, Jen Tynes faces the problem of presenting a coherent picture of a world that's shattered as soon as she tries to explain it or, as she puts it in the poem that precedes Part I ("ALL MAY BE MERGED"), "When I snap pictures tender soars apart at the roots". She attempts to "enfold the brimming object to you" by presenting a series of apparently complete shards connected by more open maps. Small rooms and scenes, which visually resemble traditional short poems, alternate with more open compositions that serve as diagrams of the spaces in between. It's important to look at the relationships between the pieces and pages, because according to the acknowledgments section at the front, this book is to be regarded as a long poem.
The more traditional-appearing poem-pieces on the left-hand pages give us short scenes or spaces--slices of time and space. These spaces range from hopeful to violent with mundane transgressions elevated by Tynes' rich use of language.
As its title implies, "HOUSES ARE STILL STANDING" is the most hopeful section of the long poem. It's a love poem about two people who have passed through a strangely animated landscape. Their journey ends in trust, symbolized by the speaker taking the addressee's hand, despite the disappearance of "solid article[s]".
Violent poems stand out more, some using the color red to connect blood, violence, and passion. In "IT IS NOW AMONG ADULTS", "A stripped switch / / [that] eventually brings blood" and "Little pots / of fire" are contrasted with the gray "crepuscular machine [that] give[s] / out". Only the bloody and burning lasts. Later, after spending ten lines on cheerful neighborhood children and leaving on the lights in "CONVERGING INTO THE GROUPS AND CENTERS", the poet admits
I take a bundle
of sticks and redden
their ankles if they misbehave
It's difficult not to read the Roman fasces into this.
The color red is only implied in the menstrual blood that appears at the start of another, seemingly untitled, section:
or seep along
my pantleg is animal
An animal natural implies instinctual violence and sexuality and, once again, this is connected to blood.
Violence, of course, can also be against animals, as in "THE RECOLLECTION OF AN OBJECT FORMED FROM IT":
I watch a cat sleeping
on your chest then tossed
across the sunporch.
The grammatical construction protects the poet from having to name the human perpetrator of this violence and, in doing so, draws the reader's attention to the person who did it.
Finally, violence overlaps with mundane transgressions in "THE KEEN UNPASSIONED BEAUTY OF THE GREAT MACHINE". The three who keep eating the speaker "til gone" add a chill to what would would otherwise be an eccentric picture of someone's odd old grandmother: "Your ornery biddy / saves bones." Alternatively, the presence of a the comical "biddy" makes the transgression of murder or of collecting pieces of the dead mundane.
But there are far more mundane transgressions highlighted and celebrated in this long poem. One section begins with apparent synaesthesia, sight being tasted, since you don't eat lanterns:
but later you realize that it perhaps isn't synaesthesia, as you're presented an act of transgressive eating:
. . . Chew
on good blades,
feast in dry
Mundane, however, does not mean unimportant. "Between times" mentions the "small business" that one deals with between the more dramatic, apparently important things. Tynes subtly undermines the belief that such commonplace things don't matter by asking "what am I / supposed to cover next?" as "Sashes // ceremoniously gather around" her, suggesting the expected appearance of something "significant", worth putting on stage.
Moreover, even mundane transgressions are significant, because
Even a herd of cattle
on borrowed land
knows dissension, makes eyes.
Every small act of defiance is detectable and can change the attitude of the crowd.
The spaces of such trespasses are stitched together by open field compositions that are brief enough and leave enough blank space to violate the appearance of a traditional volume of poetry. Appropriately, the phrases in these pieces are often the names of quilt designs: "Gentleman's Fancy" and "Sunrise on the Walls of Troy", for instance.
These right-hand page maps start out as simply phrases thrown like guideposts on a mostly blank background, signs in the wilderness between meaning-laden scenes. In the second half of this book (Parts III and IV), the addition of phrases or whole pieces in all caps suggests an increasing distance between sites of meaning--one that requires shouting or telegrams.
The first exception to the pattern of short poem/scene on the left side with diagram on the right comes in the first section and starts with the line "An open box is a signal". This is appropriate enough, given that the break in the pattern consists of the left-hand poem being visually opened up with extra space between lines.
So what is this opening a signal of? If the poem's next line is to be believed-- and since we are in its world, we really have no choice but to believe it--friendship. Friendship is both an opening up (of oneself to another) and a sewing together (of two once more separate individuals). The spaces between lines here give us an opportunity to insert ourselves more fully into the world of the poem. The aspect of being sewn together is represented once again by quilt names and by the next page being, once again, a traditional more put-together poem. Having once entered a poem, the closed-appearing poem includes us rather than excluding us, even as
To pass on
Meaning being reliant on some degree of shared language, the possibilities thereof must to some degree be limited. Finally, the alternating pattern is reestablished with a diagram leading into Part II.
The second break dedicates a full two page spread before the concluding, eponymous poem, as if that final, as if that long promised goal were more distant from its neighbors than the rest of the slices of Tynes' lush world are. In keeping with the theme of the importance of the mundane, however, this last poem does not stray from the representations of hope, violence, and transgression but rather compresses them all into its final lines:
I burn my own
mark into each animal
long after thinking it.
The mundane act of branding is pondered like a serious transgression: ideas and claims must be thoroughly thought through before being staked out as one's own, especially if the animal has been considered someone else's-- and we have no reason to believe they are not. Moreover, it is inherently violent to brand an animal, as the verb "burn" emphasizes. Nonetheless, the act of branding is full of hope at least for the one who enacts it, as it represents a belief in a future time when that mark will matter to the one who made it.
Tynes does follow this long poem of hopeful, violent, mundane poems that appear traditional stitched together by open field compositions with a statement of poetics, "Ways of Contrariness" that could be taken as an act of branding. But, unlike so many such statements, it never veers into abrasive manifesto and never becomes as painful to the reader as the act of branding is to the subjected animal.
*****Elizabeth Kate Switaj is a small press poet, an ESL teacher, a kimono copywriter, an ex-expat, an amateur aerial acrobat, a Seattle native, and a Brooklyn resident. She blogs at http://qassandra.livejournal.com
UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006 by TOM BECKETT (1)
NICHOLAS MANNING ReviewsUnprotected Texts: Selected Poems 1978-2006
by Tom Beckett(Meritage Press, St. Helena and San Francisco, 2006)
The title of Tom Beckett’s much overdue Selected
is revelatory: for in what way are Beckett’s texts “unprotected”? Well, perhaps we can conceive of the notion of “protectedness” in poetry as being a question of that with which the poem surrounds itself: its mode, its means, its audience, its ontology, its reason for being, etc. This cushion, this veritable air-bag, is in the end what allows a poem, any poem, to be read: it is, in short, all which enables us to identify it as a poem, as a certain type of poem, and moreover to read it in a particular way.
Its status and its statute.
Now, whether a poem shows or does not show a certain acquiescence, a compliance with regard to these protective structures, is perhaps the degree
of its protectedness. In an important way, this is not to say that such “acquiescence” must necessarily result in conservatism, in New Formalism, in the British Movement or in the School of Quietude, as, for example, such texts as T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
are “radical” in certain ways, but may still be seen as relatively “protected”: that is, they are more or less comfortable with their own statute as pieces of writing, of what, finally, they are really trying to do
Tom Beckett’s poems do not demonstrate this comfort. Tom Beckett’s poems have chosen that dangerous path which consists in the sack and pillage of their own protective structures. And why is this dangerous? What may happen to a poem if it is not
surrounded by this veritable condom--the image is Beckett’s –of mode, means, audience, and ontology? (Or rather, if such elements are so dynamic, existing in such a constant state of flux, that they become almost imperceptible, and thus unusable?) Well, simply, such a poem, having thrown off the shackles of its protective structures, runs the risk of not being understood
Yet the resounding triumph of Beckett’s aesthetic is precisely the fact that these poems are
understood. That, all the while refusing to content themselves with being read in one way, all the while writhing and kicking, changing, in true Protean fashion, their form, genre and gender, they remain resolutely, determinably, open.
As, for these poems, “protectedness” is not so much a protective shield as it is a barrier, an imposed limit. “Anything that occurs is a structure” Beckett tells us in the first pages of this deeply rewarding collection, and one has the overwhelming impression that this inevitable structuring of the world--and of writing--is in the end unfortunate. For in order to make sense of reality we must, to a certain extent, restrict it, restrain it, just as we much restrict and restrain language. “A world is not frame”: no, but we need frames, don’t we, somewhat, in order to understand the world? And poetry, to a certain extent, is
“frame”: as Beckett remarks, stanza is room in Italian, and even the very page, like Greenberg’s flat surface, is an imposed limit . . . For this reason, Beckett is extremely interested in the question of limits, barriers, horizons, walls: by all that which puts limits on our lived, and poetic, experiences, by imposing upon them a (necessary?) structure.
So what, then, does Beckett advise us to do . . . “Sleep in long unbuttoning templates” . . . This beautiful phrase is in the end quite explicit: templates, frames, may be necessary for us in order to initially make sense of things--language and
world--but they are in the end mere templates which may be “unbuttoned”. The adjective, charged with Beckett’s usual playful eroticism, also has a certain Steinian echo to it, and we see this “unbuttoning” in the very poem in which this statement occurs. For this poem, “Frames”, is apparently a list-poem, but we soon remark something which occurs so very often in Tom Beckett: the poem does not obey its own rules! It does not do what its told! It writhes and kicks! As for some ten lines there is one sentence per line, one sentence per numbered-point: then it is as if, tired of its own protectedness, of its fixed definition as a certain type of poem, the poem decides, “Basta”, and begins to break down, or rather, to break out.
For Tom Beckett’s poems, like children playing, make their rules up as they go along: and in this way they are the perfect counter-point to such schools as Oulipo who attempt to impose a pre-existing framework of constraints, to which the poem must subsequently simply adhere
. But Beckett’s poems are living organisms; they see what they are becoming, and maybe they do not like what they are becoming, so they change, or attempt to change: their form, their audience, their pronouns, even their gender.
But there is a rewarding complexity, another side entirely, to these questions, as: “Partitions are lovely sometimes.” It is this “sometimes” which is important. For Beckett is not an anarchist, is not an advocate of the utter dissolution of all points of reference. The poems– again like children, and I think the analogy is useful –often return to known structures in order to feel comforted again: they are not entirely free radicals, they simply change the rules if they need to, and obey them when it suits.
“Pronouns articulate indefensible space”: this is the space of the poem, indefensible because of the dynamic nature of language. Beckett loves altering the meaning of phrases solely by changing one syntactical element: an article or pronoun, which shows that language is not constructed solely, or even principally, around its “powerful” signifiers, its verbs and nouns--words which do
respectively--but more perhaps around its apparently innocuous pronominal and prepositional bits and bobs: “I”, “you”, “to”, “for” . . .
The result of this attention is that one is constantly “misreading” Beckett: which is, finally, simply a proof of the fact that one is reading
him. For example, on the mostly very beautiful pages of “The Nude Sentience”, I read “Property is theft” instead of “Propriety is theft”, and “Meaning, in fact, is synonymous with context” instead of “Meaning, in fact, is synonymous with contest”. These confusions are, of course, subtly intentional, but they are nevertheless disturbing; for they explicitly illustrate the extent to which we often read, instead of the “real word” upon the page, rather what we expect--or most want?--to encounter. And this feeling of unease is, of course, a very good thing . . .
“Words as reruns”: no usage, Beckett knows, is a first usage, and his series of subtle variations on words, “context” as “contest”, puts into haut-relief this rerun quality of words, their adaptability, indeed their recyclability. No word is a priori
: “all language leaks” . . .
There is so
much in Beckett: self, space, sound, sex, gender, mimesis, ekphrasis, praxis. Windows and
walls. He is a poet of abundance--with the faults too inherent in this abundant project. (Some of the conceptual pieces, for example, those which Beckett calls “repetitive” or “modulatory”, and which in the old high tradition of conceptual L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, sometime just go on much too long. After six pages, we have understood the variations, and their constant morphing and remorphing adds little to our understanding, other than screaming I AM BEING CONCEPTUAL.) But we forgive these brief moments of perhaps personal ennui and concentrate rather on the fact that sometimes Beckett is an aphorist the equal of Karl Kraus or René Char, sometimes a great pornographer, and always funny: “Does anyone out there really like their plot?”
A final question: why is this book so late
? Why wasn’t this given to us ten years ago? For the fact that Unprotected Texts
is Tom Beckett’s first full-length book of poems is indicative of a surprising paradigm in the way literary reputations today are made and consolidated. For Tom Beckett seems, since the 1980s at least, so much a part of the landscape of late 20th century poetics: from his seminal decade editing The Difficulties
to his various chapbooks, blogs, guest-editorial stints and appearance in In the American Tree
, his invaluable contributions are undeniable: they just haven’t yet made up that object we call “book.”
In his interview with Crag Hill and Thomas Fink which concludes the volume, Beckett articulates the understandable feeling that: “If I’ve despaired at times at the little attention my work has received, it hasn’t been because of a big ego. Rather I’ve always hungered to be part of ‘the conversation’, part of a thread in the fabric of our time’s poetry writing weave.” Let’s simply say then that Tom Beckett is now resolutely a part of this fabric, and may indeed prove to be one of its most vibrant filaments.
Nicholas Manning is Assistant Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of Strasbourg, France, currently writing his doctoral thesis on rhetoric and sincerity in post-war European and American poetry. His poems, articles, translations and reviews have appeared in such places as Verse, Fascicle, Free Verse, Dusie, The Argotist, BlazeVox, MiPoesias, Eratio, Cipher Journal, CrossXConnect, Shampoo
, among others. This year he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006 by TOM BECKETT (2)
FIONNA DONEY SIMMONDS ReviewsUnprotected Texts: Selected Poems 1978 – 2006 by Tom Beckett(Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2006)
Wow! What a spin! This book is performance poetry in print -- I felt I had to rush upstairs, tie my hair back in a severe chignon and pull on a black turtleneck and Capri pants a la Hepburn, before sitting down to write about the sizzling poetry the collection contained. A volume that influences, imposes identities, whose use of the page is as of a stage, it exists in dark rooms, wreathed in pungent French cigarette smoke and smelling of cheap wine. How else could you describe the impression left by two square shaped pages of nothing but the line "How do normal people BLANK?" in The Nude Sentience
repeated over and over again.
I will confess to being unfamiliar with Beckett’s work. His name I know, but if I had come across any of his work, it had not left any impression on me. What intrigued me to request a review copy of his book (and yes I know, I am a complete sucker for gimmicks) was the publicity stunt bookmark with its EXTRA LARGE condom
To say that this was an interesting collection to review is an understatement. Its playful experimentation challenges boundaries that are placed upon linguistics.
The Domain of Qualification
What can not be possessed
The faculty of reception
Sex and thought are identical – only reversed
As a genre it allowed me to appreciate, more, poetry that does not conform to the particular forms and ideas about poetry that I found myself to be biased towards. Beckett scatters words all over the page in carefully considered mayhem; the challenge for the reader is to make sense of what he is doing, to appreciate his exploring new avenues. The avant-garde continues with more obviously philosophical poems:
but a language
sighs, gasps, grunts
fluids we leaked.
--from "7. Wittgenstein Improvisations"
The collection’s expedition into the crevices that make up Beckett’s brain sometimes make you flounder in an abyss and at other times happily skim along a surface beneath which lurks multiple interpretations for a downfall. I particularly enjoyed a surreal plateau entitled the “Little Book of Zombie Poems”.
--from "Zombie Psycho-physiology"
This little section of poems about zombies tickled my fancy with the multiple approaches Beckett made to this topic. Completely disregarding the horror stigma attached to zombies, Beckett views them from all sides as normal rational “beings” creating an intensely interesting and arresting group of poems within the larger collection. A long interview at the back of Unprotected Texts
reveals Beckett to us warts and all. Reading it, you get a sense that the poems truly reflect the man as he is, and this makes the collection all the more intriguing, adding to its air of performance poetry -- rather than explaining any of it!! The book becomes a history of his personal quest for the poetry that best expresses what he wants to say. Unprotected Texts: Selected Poems 1978 – 2006
is a collection to challenge even the experienced experimental poetry audience. It creates thoughts the reader would never have imagined having. As such, it fulfils an important function in challenging our brains. Buy it -- you may just like it.
Fionna Doney Simmonds has published many reviews of poetry both in print and on the net. Formerly the Poetry Editor for feminist literary ezine Moondance.org, she has recently left that position in order to concentrate more on her writing. Living in the beautiful English county town of Shrewsbury, Fionna continues to draw inspiration from all around her and look for more ways in which to develop a wider appreciation of poetry in herself and others.
LITTLE EASE by AARON MCCOLLOUGH
ANDREA BAKER ReviewsLittle Ease by Arron McCollough(Ahsahta Press, 2006)
In many ways, Little Ease
troubles me. McCollough writes as a distant, but psychologically aware and keenly watchful thinker. He renders a subtle moral angst with phenomenal control and depth of feeling, but, here, even feeling seems to be navigated by a removed intellect’s, “cold humors,” as the breath roams disconnected, “above the city’s face far from the body.” I am not a reader easily sympathetic to such intellectualized remove, but I do find that if I invest myself and allow the poems their speculative voice, they unpack a startling sadness and awe: “Old wobbly world tearing down you make me hate me/ You fling light around your dark flung fill.”Little Ease
was a small (4’ square) cell in the Tower of London, which denied captives sufficient room to stand or lay down, instead forcing them to remain in a cramped squat. Little ease, the cell, is an apt image for Little Ease, the book, which foregrounds a quiet sense of constraint imposed by the speaker’s distrust for the physical, sensory world. For instance, in the book’s opening poem, we are asked to, “Consider the perspective boxes of Samuel Van Hoogenstraten.” Hoogenstraten worked for a time in Rembrandt's atelier where he grew fascinated by light and perspective. His boxes are diorama-like structures of realistic interiors, rich with shadow, light, and rooms seen through painted doors. McCollough asks us to consider these boxes, and then asks, “where the painted light falls and where the painted shadows crouch… what do you consider?” His angst is both existential and ontological. He seems confounded by both the subjectivity of experience and the object that has spurred experience.
This restlessness is a major theme and one of the many way in which McCollough echoes George Herbert. The second section of Little Ease
is titled "Superliminare," the Latin term for a joist above a door or window, and the title of Herbert’s poem of mystical warning to those approaching his poetic altar.
McCollough’s Superliminare poems, though, are domestic with “household gods” who smile at “the man… tying the woman’s shoe// in the street.” These poems have upbeat, staccato rhythms, a good deal of formal play (another Herbert trait), and playfully address constraint in passages like, “I am like my marriage// which is like// a good war” or “in lying down// again I offer god// an image of my death.”
I can only think that McCollough has intended these poems of fragmentary real world grounding as a threshold. The next sequence is written in the voice of Jan Vandermeer, a character for which I can find no reference, so I assume to be fictional. These are poems in which, “the light ignites itself// reveals the signature of distance/ the silhouette/ inside the trunk.” Each line becomes a lyrical, melodic structure. We are given the instruction “As no one asks the threshold how the light works// Just saunter through and halleloo.” We’re told “the world is fair// And foul it reaches for me reaching for it.” Here, again, we have that distance. We learn that the speaker and the world reach for one another, but their reaching only highlights the strain of their interactions.
In the following section, "Sonnets Manques," the playfulness extends into humor:
and you know x the neighbor cat got hit
one cat-long wound x turned upon itself
in the right lane (take away x what’s left)
the street that runs from Flint to Bowling Green
However, both the precise staccato and graceful lyricism of earlier sections are gone--instead, poems are presented awkwardly without internal musical structures. “Manques” translates from the French as “lacking,” so I assume this styling is entirely intentional. Here, I admire McCollough’s facility and control, but am unsure of what I can take away from many of the more rambling passages such as:
the task of taking on a skin like rose
we’ve tried to grow them petal and stem
are skin like taking on a film of soot
Detroit the city of roses and phlemgm
What color Jesus Detroit what resolve
After these ‘lacking’ sonnets, we face the multi-voiced "From the Restoration." It is in this section that Little Ease
stakes its claim. Here, when reading, I find myself looking away from the text and into my white walls, stunned by what an impeccable work of art this text has become, but also exhausted by the large effort required to make my way through.
The poems are now very bare, words are scattered across the page with no steady music to carry the reader through. Instead, distinct, disembodied voices come and go in bracketed, half-bracketed, and un-bracketed passages as themes return, expand, and then drift. Take only the first page, rendered here as best I am able:
[ my urchin spirit]
[::which is the] Fonder choice sun? shade?
[if Adept Lu chooses one, how can the other be wrong?]
li t t
To the space I was am now in
in a column [my narrative excuse]
bred in Fetters under
[the rail between the stiles]
Here we have bondage: “little ward,” “My task/ Work,” “the space I was am now in,” which I presume to mean the body, further labeled, “a column,” as if the body’s walls are restrictive. As “Fetters” is capitalized, I googled it and found that they are a leading manufacturer of bondage equipment. The bracketed material functions as self-reflexive editorial comment, “[my narrative excuse],” and “[or charge],” or, with the mention of Adept Lu, a Taoist leader reportedly born around A.D. 796, they also stand as entirely other strands of thought.
These weavings are overwhelming, but fascinatingly well-coordinated as the text both addresses and demonstrates constriction. Elsewhere, the theme of bondage is expanded to consider the puzzle-like constraints and freedoms of married life, “[I] gave my [shelter] to a woman.”
We have only one short passage that approaches a place of rest:
This only hope relieves me, that strife
Is another[r] name
in this light
elected / pains and slaveries
Toward the end of this section, we have no resolve, but what is perhaps a proposal for alleviating some degree of suffering:
plant it round with
Or sweet Lyric Song
The final section, "Penalty," demands much less from the reader. Many of these poems are titled, “Letters from Prison,” or “Prisoner’s Wreath.” Interestingly, there is no sense of guilt or wrong-doing in the prisoner’s voice, which is in keeping with the concept of living as its own prison.
Herbert is again at play here as the “Prisoner’s Wreath” poems reflect Herbert’s “A Wreath.” But, where Herbet’s poem identifies his “crooked winding ways” with the wrapping of the wreath, McCollough is confined within the circular structure: “This charcoal way surrounds my spot in dust.” Herbert offers the physical wreath to God as a temporary gesture, until he is able to live, “straight as a line, and ever tend to thee,” and, “give thee a crown of praise.” McCollough doesn’t address himself to a personal God or any singular other. Instead, he offers a generalized, “Leisure here at my expense try this leisure,” and I’m reminded again of the earlier,
This only hope relieves me, that strife
Is another[r] name
My own reading of Little Ease
is not yet final. I expect it will be several months before it migrates from bedside table to bookshelf. For now, I remain simultaneously engaged by and ill at ease with its methodology. It would be easy to point out that such a work does not intend my ease, but I’m not ready to dismiss my desire for more connection through gesture and emotion and less through a demonstration of the intellect’s constraints.
Andrea Baker was the recipient of the 2004 Slope Editions Book Prize for her first book, like wind loves a window
. She is also the author of the chapbooks gilda
(Poetry Society of America, 2004) and gather
(moneyshot editions, 2006). Raised in Florida, she now resides in Brooklyn, NY where her apartment is small and entropy upsets her. She maintains a blog at andreabaker.blogspot.com
ON EARTH: LAST POEMS AND AN ESSAY by ROBERT CREELEY
JIM MCCRARY ReviewsOn Earth: Last Poems and an Essay by Robert Creeley(University of California Press, 2006)
First is the size and maybe it is the black and white of the jacket -- but just reminds me of the Pocket Poet series from City Lights Bookshop in 1960’s. You know we are all imprinted with that edition of HOWL
. Anyway, nice the size of this edition. And a great painting by longtime Creeley collaborator and friend Francesco Clemente on the cover. Creeley did respect the long tradition of friendship and working with a painter. Nice touch in the end. This collection of "Last Poems and an Essay”, according to intro, come from a folder Creeley had with him during a residence in Marfa, Texas. These the works then finished just prior to death. One immediate thing about flipping through this book was discovering that three poems in this small collection are for and to Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn and John Wieners. And to read these poems and realize the love and what else...adoration, respect Creeley felt towards them so late at the end of his
life. And to realize that he chose these three men to write to...not Olson, not Zukoskey, not Duncan or Corman, not any others. Well, personally, fine with me because coming up like I did through the poetics of mid-twenth century -- these are the guys that I could read. Not Pound (who knew history), ditto Olson (who cared about history), not the academics (who studied)...not Snyder even though we all tried, you know, the Boy Scout outside, hiking and Zen stuff. No in the end, and I really do not think I am all that unique here the raucous, city of Paul Blackburn on a NYC subway or in McSorleys and John Weiners bedrock, down alley Boston or Dorns fucked up cowboy stance. Ah....those guys were poets. Well, too, for me, there was Kyger no less then any of them and other women for sure. But not in this book. (Aside: Also nice to see within the Whitman essay Creeley points to one Gregory Corso, who, in my humble opinion was the ONLY member of anything worth calling the New York School of Poetry. Sorry all you Friends of Frank etc...but Corso was the only one who did it and deserves it.)
There is also great surprise and, well, head spinning reality that many of these last poems from Creeley are rhyming lyrical almost classical in there reading. That is a surprise. Something in that to ponder. And not that they are less to read. Oh No. Consider:
Room for one and all
around the gathering ball,
to hold the sacred thread,
to hold and wind and pull.
Sit in the common term.
All hands now move as one.
The work continues on.
The task is never done.
Channeling Ms. Emily? Who knows, but there it is and wholly Creeley. And to find very funny anti-war poem which is not quite a nursery rhyme in form.
And there are the classic Creeley poems to ponder over:
If, as one says, one says
something to another,
does it go on and on then
without apparent end?
Or does it only become talk,
balked by occasion, stopped
because it never got started,
was said to no one?
What’s up with that? Is this Creeley perhaps contemplating a past poem that perhaps became, for better or worse, his most well known “Drive he said....”. Was that poem simply “...said to no one?” Ack, who knows. Doesn’t matter. Important that we have this new poem to carry.
And then the essay of the title: "Reflections on Whitman in Age." Queer title but Creeley begins an explanation in the opening sentence. “In age one is oneself reflective, both of what it has been to live and of what that act has become.....”. Perhaps the “in age” reference is something from the Northeast lingo like “down east”. Who knows. But this essay is for sure Creeley thinking of his position in life and surrounded by Whitman and some others (Keats, etc). Creeley looks at Whitman’s attachment to the sea as a common thread thru his lifetime writing, among other notions. Looking, Creeley is, to see how Whitman manages in late life. Here a quote that says much:
“The roll and turn of the physical waves, their ceaseless repetition, the seeming return of each so particular, the same and yet not the same -- this is the “call”, recall (recoil), he has come to, an indeterminant spillof memories “By any grand ideal tried, intentionless, the whole a nothing.” But one hopes to have been included even so, to have mattered, taken place, been part of, done -- as one says in this utterly merciless country -- something."
This is a striking bit of writing and perfect to end this “slim volume”. Something to carry in ones pocket, ones hand. Something for us to have. Oh sure, the collected, selected, all of everything he ever wrote in 4 volumes from California will appear for just a few hundred bucks.........can’t stop that can we. Good for the future graduate students I suppose...but for now, for we here....to find this group of poems and text by Robert Creeley as a final gift.
Oh Robert, you have done
something and it matters
Jim McCrary lives with his wife, painter, Sue Ashline in Lawrence, Kansas. His latest chapbook from Really Old Gringo Press is titled: Oh Miss Mary
and speaks to the real life of Miss Mary Magdeline -- who IMHO is a true Holy Ghost.
SAINT GHETTO OF THE LOANS by GABRIEL POMERAND
DAVID-BAPTISTE CHIROT ReviewsSaint Ghetto of the Loans by Gabriel Pomerand. Translated by Michael Kaspar and Bhamati Viswanathan, Afterword by M. Kaspar.
118 pp, 50 of them illustrated rebuses. (Ugly Duckling Presse, Lost Literature Series #1, 2006)LIKE A ROSETTA STONE Anarkeyologies of the Future in a Lost Book’s Return to its Living Avant-Garde For Roberto Bolano (1953-2003)
: Tireless investigator, participant in, inventor of, and lover of historical and his own fictional--especially obscure--avant-gardes, poets, books, lives.For Michael Moynihan
: historian, documentarian, writer/artist/musician among international undergrounds.For Tim Gaze
working with Lettrism’s futures, visual poet & publisher
A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels, one day I will tell your latent birthAn Anarkeyological Time Line:
--“Voyelles/Vowels”, Arthur Rimbaud
I want it understood that only the avant-garde of the intelligence itself preoccupies me, and not all the schools this avant-garde fits into. I dread the day when the name of the invention--which is a phenomenon of commodification--overshadows the real search for transgression . . .
Throughout my life, I’ve had no other goal than to be an extremist, at that battlefront which alarm clocks suggest even as they lure us into the traps of life.
--Gabriel Pomerand, in Saint Ghetto of the Loans
1798: Rosetta Stone found by French soldiers in ruined wall of an old fort. The Greek writing, one of three on the Stone, is a decree passed by priests in Memphis in 196 B.C.
1824: Jean-Francois Champollian, working from an inked and rubbed copy of the Stone’s texts, publishes book announcing his breakthrough in translating Egyptian hieroglyphics. He write that this complex system “is both symbolic and phonetic in the same text, the same phrase ,the same word”, opening a method to be put to use for visual/sound poetries of 20th Century.
1905 (ca.) Fellow painter Henri “Le Dounaier” Rousseau tells Picasso: “We are the two Masters of our epoch--you in the Egyptian Style, and I in the modern.”
1949: Cairo, Egypt. The Lettrist artist/poet/”Archangel” Gabriel Pomerand marries Roxane Chiniara, daughter of King Farouk’s Greek insurance agent.
1950: Pomerand publishes Saint Ghetto des Prets
(Saint Ghetto of the Loans) in which he announces “We’re the new Egyptians.”
1954: Memphis, in its Tennesee manifestation. Elvis Presley begins recording his first singles for Sun Records. It is frequently noted retrospectively that the young Isidore Isou, founder of Lettrism in 1942/46, looks amazingly like the young Elvis Presley.
The history of the avant-gardes of the last 150 years--as any rummager and gleaner among the “dustbins of history” will tell you--is an immense, rhizomatic, international labyrinth of brightly lit passages, flickering alleys and obscure footpaths. Some are short cuts between well lit squares, some deviations from the walkways in shadowy parks, others weed-grown cul-de-sacs. There are cracked decaying Utopian playgrounds, mutant Maldororean organisms surging through shattered barrios, industrial wastelands in chemically etched ruins, art brut assemblages arising amidst junked conceptual and technological Installations, long “lost” manuscripts floating in the puddles and dust of forgotten publishers’ cellars, erasures of book print and wall grafittied palimpsests fighting their way free of enchaining imposed texts and whitewashings. And that’s in just the urban areas. Beyond lie the thousands of rural groups with their creations-solitaries, Bronte-esque families, communes, nomadic bands, all with their astounding outpourings. The life stories and works of untold numbers of as yet unsung creators lie patiently awaiting the light of a future--which can always be right this very minute--in which they will receive momentous recognition, or at very least a promising footnote. This is the stuff of legends, of myth, where the realities of historical discoveries, rediscoveries and fictions like those of the brilliant Chilean writer Roberto Bolano meet. (In Bolano’s works both historical obscure poets and movements and imaginary ones exist--each one heightening and illuminating, or corroding and making more sinister the other.)
Yet even in the age of the internet, in which one can electronically search and stalk the most obscure movements and figures, the barrier of translation still makes the views of the labyrinth differ from language to language, creating time lags and gaps in their “discovery”, reception and impact. And within a language, geography creates its own barriers--an avant-garde will be born, grow, flourish, disappear or continue into the present--be a well known feature of a landscape, a local culture, and yet not far off or to another language group, or dialect of the same one, be obscure, precious and remote.
Such has been for the most part, with a few exceptions, until relatively recently the history and influence of French Lettrism in the USA and other Anglophone countries. Some print and e-texts in English tend to either overexagerate Lettrism’s “obscurity” and “neglected”-ness, or, in some cases, take the opposite tack and over-inflate its historico-political role in 1960’s France and influence on other movements outside France. [1.]
Ironically, this mimics the principal of “the minimum and the maximum” as laid down and employed by Lettrism’s still very much alive and productive founder, Isidore Isou. In his 1949 manifesto La Soulevement de la jeunesse
(The Uprising of Youth), Isou had laid the groundwork for future events by being the first to propose the demographic of youth in itself as a potential revolutionary force. This was picked up on by the Situationists and other groups, developed further and put into action in Sixties France. While not one of the detonators of the explosions, Isou had already planted the time bomb awaiting the detonators’ putting it to use. As always, the more one learns of the actual history and works of Lettrism, the more interesting and inspiring than its minimal/maximal urban legend versions it proves to be.
This makes the bi-lingual appearance this year of Gabriel Pomerand’s legendary and very rare 1950 visual rebuses/textual booklength prose poem Saint Ghetto of the Loans
a truly major event. It provides a kind of physical Rosetta Stone (in a doubled way) for each reader’s further anarkeyological researches into the past and living world of Lettrism, as well as inspiration for artists/poets in many media to do verbivisivoci work in and outside the range of media the Lettrists continue very much to work in. Ugly Duckling Presse couldn’t have picked a better book, in an excellent translation by Michael Kaspar and Bhamati Viswanathan, to begin its Lost Literature Series with.
Especially exciting is to finally be able to see/read the entire fifty pages of Pomerand’s rebuses, until now known only in reproductions of a few pages. What makes Saint Ghetto
different from other Lettrist texts using rebuses is that side by side with them is their original French text (with above it the English). This is the book’s Rosetta Stone aspect for French readers--other Lettrist texts using rebuses came without their texts. Even those who read just a little French will find a great deal of pleasure and wild humor in seeing how Pomerand finds ways visually and via sonic puns to express a word, sometimes syllable by syllable, sometimes syllable by letter by syllable, sometimes letter by letter, sometimes all at once. [Editor's Note: You can see some images of Pomerand's rebuses at David Baptiste-Chirot's Blog.]
Even if you read no French, it is astonishing going though the pages and looking at the profusion of sometimes familiar signs and images, and ones invented and unknown, their arrangements in patterns that change from black and white reversals of fore/backgrounds and changings in the directions of the forms forming the “lines” of the writing. It’s like watching a movie from another dimension. Without any known rules to hold you back, you can start using the signs to create your own words and sounds to go with them, and create your own Lettrist performance. Since solving rebuses in your own language is quite a bit like playing charades, it’s not hard to imagine all the things you can dream up with the unknown linguistic meanings of signs in the way of sounds and actions!
And there you have arrived at one of the key ideas in Lettrist meta- and hypergraphics--the use of signs without meanings already known, bearing the potential for new languages, new ways of acting and being, a continually renewing creativity. This is also a key to Lettrism’s enduring existence and potential today, regardless of how well or poorly it is known.
Very often when a movement or artist little known outside its own culture is translated and disseminated into another language and culture, the potentialities their works unleashed in their own culture find a new soil to grow in. The impact can be quite great in all sorts of surprising and unexpected ways. Two or three years ago Tim Gaze, the Australian visual poet and print publisher of asemic
, (and now also the on-line Avance
, e-books of asemic and Lettrist-influenced work) sent me a letter and some visual poems by post, in which he wrote that from his view, Lettrism was what offered the most towards creating the future in visual poetry. I think Saint Ghetto
may help Tim’s “gaze” into the future find many forms of realization.
Lettrism sprang from the head of Isidore Isou (Jean-Isidore Goldstein, 1925--) in the 1940’s in his native Romania, in a most appropriate way: via a revelation caused by a creative misreading. On the 19th of March 1942, Isou was reading a text by Keyserling in which he misread “ le poete dilate les vocables”. Since “vocables” in Romanian means “voyelles” (vowels) in French, the 16 year old Isou read the sentence as “le poet dilate les voyelles”. In a state of inspiration, Isou immediately wrote his first Lettrist manifesto and texts.
Inspired by the example of his fellow Jewish Romanian poet-PR man the Dadaist Tristan Tzara before him, Isou went to liberated Paris with a suit case of manuscripts, ready and driven to spread the New Tidings. In 1945 at a Saint-Germain soup kitchen for Jewish refugee orphans, he encountered the 19 year old French-born Pomerand, who became his “first disciple and friend”. Isou meant “disciple” in spirit and letter both: he brought with him a novel, soon to appear as his second published work, called l’Agregation d’un nom et d’un messie
; “The Making of a Name, The Making of A Messiah”. Gabriel’s self-appointed role was to become the “cantor” and later the “Archangel” of Lettrism.
Isou in those days was a brilliant and very convincing speaker--a thread-bare, completely unknown refugee, at barely twenty he was able to get himself a contract with the prestigious publishing house Gallimard, much to the envy and shock of many insiders--and his effect on Pomerand was profound. In the Introduction to Saint Ghetto
I have to say it was Isou who set loose this new phenomenon that manifests as my understanding . . . we wandered the streets together, deep in debate, and he filled my head with a mess of ideas in which the surprise of youthful poetry, of theater, of erotology, of philosophy, of metagraphics, and perhaps, one day, of medicine, was expressed succinctly, too fast and mixed up for me to grasp anything except that which thrilled me the most: verse.
Isou’s ideas were set forth in the first manuscript he submitted to Gallimard, “Introduction to a New Poetry and New Music from Charles Baudelaire to Isidore Isou” Rather than the will to survive, Isou posited the will to create as the fundamental human drive. And since creation was God’s work--via creation humans can become gods. Was not Isou the messiah himself a living proof? (His 1950 metagraphic work is entitled Diaries of the Gods.) God-like creating humans could make a new paradise on earth, designing and constructing the architectures, arts, sciences, philosophies of what Rimbaud had foreseen and foretold as “the Splendid Cities”.
Isou’s basic principle regarding creation is that the arts go through alternating and mutually necessary phases of “amplitude” and “chiseling”. In Western poetry the amplifying phase lasted from Homer to Victor Hugo. The modern phase of chiseling opened with Baudelaire’s blasting away at poetic dross in language to get the modern world and its imagery and words into a new poetic form. Narrative is carved down to anecdote. From Baudelaire, there proceeds a continual and direct line of chiseling: of form into verse by Verlaine, of verse and anecdote into word by Rimbaud, of word into patterns of sound and spaces by Mallarme and of sound and space patterns into nonsense/nothing by Tzara. Isou’s arrival announces the ultimate act of making the letter alone the basis of poetry. And via the example of poetry, all the arts were to follow suit, in a far reaching chiseling, down to their basic building blocks. Once this base is reached, the Lettrist phase of amplification begins, contributing to a totalisation in the new forms of creation throughout all aspects of the arts, from household furniture to architecture, painting, film, writing, theater, sculpture, body art, performance art, music, urban planning. The effects of this totalisation are to be the extension of creation throughout all aspects of life. Creation will be continually transforming life, liberating it into new ways of being, new ways of creating. Everything will be affected--the sciences, economics, politics, medicine, mathematics . . . A new Utopian era will begin.
Isou’s vision of a totalizing, transformative creation can be seen as a chiseling decomposition and amplifying recomposition of Medieval religious festivals or Wagner’s Gesammtkunstwerk
, though the forerunners much closer to his both in time and spirit are Marinetti’s Italian Futurism (founded in 1909, with a great many of its ideas and works in all media also still too little known in many ways in the USA), and the multi-media work of German artist/poet/performer/Merzbau architect/dramatist/layout designer/collagist Kurt Schwitters. Since he grew up during the Depression and chaos of the 1930’s and WW2, Isou (I am only hazarding a guess) may well have known very little of these two examples: the work he writes of in his first book is French.
Schwitters in a 1926 manifesto on “Consistent Poetry” had also isolated the letter as the basis for poetry:
Consistent poetry is constructed of letters. Letters have no concepts. Letters in themselves have no sound, they only offer the possibility to be given sound values by the performer. The consistent poem plays off letters and groups of letters against each other.
The Russian Futurist Zaum (trans-rational) poets Alexei Kruchenyhk and Victor Khlebnikov had even earlier, in 1913, produced a manifesto on “The Letter as Such”.
This calls for poems to be copied by hand by artists from the poet’s original ms. The emphasis is actually on the handwritten, and by an artist, production of the letters, rather than on the letters in and of themselves. Since handwriting can vary so greatly from person to person, mood to mood, its artistic use is to further break down the standardizations of type written/printed letters visually, as a means to liberating them from fixed meanings and ways of being sounded and performed.
Trying to get Lettrism launched into the poetry and /art world and above all get the attention of the media eye, the messiah and his archangel prepared their first provocations. Not surprisingly, Isou and Pomerand with their now small band of recruits met with opposition from some heavy hitters of the earlier Russian Futurist and German Dada avant-gardes.
On 8 January 1946, Isou gave a lecture at the Societe Savant which prompted a counter-demonstration by the famous expatriate Russian typographer, layout designer and book artist Iliazde, whose career began in the 1910’s, alongside the Futurists. Iliazde came equipped with materials to demonstrate that what Isou was doing was nothing new under the sun. The event and counter demonstration didn’t generate enough noise to get much notice. Later that month, on the 21st, another event generated far more publicity, really putting the Lettrists on the map. The former Surrealist Michel Leiris was to give a lecture before the Vieux Colombier premiere of the play La Fuite
by Isou’s old idol, Tristan Tzara, who was gracing the evening with his presence. Led by Pomerand, who had rounded them up and purchased their tickets, a small group of Lettrists kept interrupting Leiris’ remarks by shouting “We know about Dada, M Leiris—tell us about something new! For example—lettrism!” ”Dada is dead! Lettrism has taken its place!” Taken aback, Leiris obviously had no idea what they were talking about. “You’re kidding! What!—You’ve never heard of lettrism?” “The Lettrists!” “Oh I want to hear them! Let’s hear the Lettrists!”
Drowning out Leiris and driving him from the stage, the Lettrists waited while the play went on. As soon as it ended, Pomerand strong-armed his way through the crowd, took the stage and announced that Isidore Isou, creator of the new Lettrist era in art, was going to present his theories and recite his Lettrist poems. Most people left as Isou took the stage, but those that stayed provided some fresh recruits.
The next morning the left-wing newspaper Combat
ran headlines and copy: the Lettrists had carried the day in classic scandalous style. Overnight they had made a name for themselves in Paris and established their reputation as the first real new avant-garde of the post-War era.
To add insult--and a very serious one--to injury, the Lettrists later in 1946 came out with one issue of a journal called La Dictature Lettriste
(The Lettrist Dictatorship
). In a Paris reeling from the almost overwhelming daily revelations of new horrors left by one dictator, and with several others still in power, it was an appalling and calculated incitement. I think the title perhaps also had another meaning, however, referring to the “Dictator” aka “Pope” of Surrealism, Andre Breton, whose movement Isou had pronounced dead. The Lettrist “Dictatorship” mocked the deposed dictator and his vanished power and importance. “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead!” The Lettrist Dictatorship declares the end of other dictatorships could also be a way of reading the message--a bitter reminder that as soon as one dictator is gone, there is always another springing up.
Raoul Hausmann, one of the founders of militant Communist-oriented Berlin Dada (1918-1920/1), disputed inventor of photo-montage and sole inventor of Optophonic poetry, responded with a communiqué called “B.T.B”:
Some two dozen French and foreign upstarts have founded the “dictature lettriste” in Paris. They claim to be the inventors of the sort of phonetic poems we created between 1918 and 1921. But we have had an interview with them by the medium of telebrain (B.T.B.) and we reproduce it here for our readers.
Qu: h gf mjh ert gguhnjj . . . (questions and answers continue in this style for a page.)
Schwitters’, Hausmann’s, the Russians’ and Marinetti’s conceptions and uses of the letter are limited to literally what are accepted as letters in the languages which they are using. (Those of their alphabets, Roman and Cyrillic.) Isou’s conception of the letter is far more open and leads to an embrace of asemic writing and signs. Isou regards the letter as a pure sign without meaning, a condition for the possibilities of new and as yet unknown meanings. The asemic letter-as-pure-sign allows for the invention and use of endless new signs and letters as well as new uses for existing ones and for any past or present script, calligraphy, icons, symbols, hieroglyphs, etc. The creator can produce new alphabets, new languages, whose meanings may not yet be known, but whose apprehension as language is immediate. ( In the way one can look at a writing/script/calligraphy/hieroglyphics in a language foreign--or imagined--or “lost”--and not known to one, yet know immediately it is a language, by its layout, its visual arrangements.)
This desire--demand--for a direct, pure immediacy is impossible in the mediation of language: Lettrism therefore will deliver this “utopian” immediacy of communication via the performance of the asemic signs. Communication as a communal, shared experience of Lettrist immediacy becomes possible through the oral performance by a Lettrist sound poet. For this purpose, Isou and his “chief lieutenant” Maurice LeMaitre devised a system of approximately 130 signs indicating different sonic possibilities. While Lettrism is primarily considered in terms of visual poetry today, it’s essential to its spirit and not just its letters/signs, to keep this sonic performative element in the mind’s ears as it were--performing them aloud with oneself/others--when looking at Lettrist works.
Sound poetry performance was Pomerand’s forte and what he was primarily known for in the early years of Lettrism. He also was well known to the police for his penchants for brawling, obscenity, and public displays of indecency--various states of undress during and outside of performance. He was sued for defamation and sent to jail for various of his lectures delivered at a hall in the Societe de Geographie on such topics as “The Advantages of Prostitution” and pederasty. (As always, a few humorless individuals in attendance failed to get the “message” and complained of indeceny and outrage. Unwittingly, they had become part of the purpose of the pieces: to create a provocation and action in disturbing their complacency. To shake them from their torpor. Unfortunately, often complacency was easily disturbed but torpor not readily shaken.)
Pomerand was a late night regular and house star on the stage at the Tabou Club in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood, where Isou lives to this day in the same apartment he has since the 1940’s. The Tabou counted among its regulars Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, (usually gone by the time Pomerand took the stage), Juliette Greco, Jean Cocteau, Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, and a mix of celebrities, faded aristocrats, existentialists, wealthy tourists, students, models, photographers, gossip writers, would-be artists and neighborhood characters.
When Pomerand’s turn came, the audience called for him “Koum Kell Kerr!”
and “Biniminiva!” Boris Vian--who played with his Jazz band earlier in the evenings and was the house and neighborhood historian--wrote that the slight, dark-haired, dark- eyed Pomerand was one of the surprises of the Tabou. When he was hurling with maximum confrontational force his Lettrist sounds into the world, Vian said, one asked each instant where that voice came from and if there would be any left for the next word--if there were Lettrist words--and if not, the next sounds.
Pomerand was writing a good deal of Lettrist poetry at this time as well as the Symphonie en K
, which had choruses in a Lettrist work for the first time. Due to his lifestyle of the period, very little of this work has survived. Depending on the clientele and their whims and the sizes of their pocketbooks, Pomerand might stay for a while in a classy hotel--and then one day find himself back in the street, sleeping under bridges again. With all his writing, making paintings, performing and founding a Lettrist center at the Librairie de la Porte Latine, a Saint-Germain bookstore, it is amazing that Pomerand had any time and energy left to do the extensive researches he made and put to use in making the rebuses in Saint Ghetto
. One gets the sense of a man burning himself up with a fevered, fervent passion--and at the same trying to be cool and detached, keeping an inner sense of equilibrium aloof, an eye in the storm in and around himself. It is this which Pomerand wants the reader to find expressed in his book:
This book is unusual and immobile, yet orderly as a caste. I’d love it, if in future, the organic world showed such an icy face, impassive and tough . . .
I’ve dug out from nothingness each of the signs that make up this work, like one obliged to invent wisdom. Impassive Brahman, thus do I picture my potential and future reader . . .
I dream of a book of mysteries equal to the arrogance and serenity in faces carved on pharoahs’ mummies . . .
Geometric priestliness, or the dream of a clear and obscure style.
What will no doubt strike the reader, at first, when considering the pictograms in this work, will be the geometric deliberateness of its images. I allowed myself no freedom in these expressions, as if contempt for my self and its weakness could perfect the quest for solemnity.
In the opening lines above and those that follow towards the middle of the Introduction, Pomerand sounds like a hardline High Modernist Elitist. He even writes of writing with gloved hands, which sounds very aristocratic, (or like a killer not wanting to leave any fingerprints) and of being caped and masked, as at a wealthy spectacle. Yet beneath these facades and masks--which Pomerand makes clear are both the written text to be clothed in pictograms and the flesh and blood of a woman’s body likewise “monstrously clad”--is a body--of text, of a woman, but also of Gabriel Pomerand, who seems to realize in the course of events that he has been mummifying himself, or allowing himself to be convinced to mummify himself. The organic body wants to break out, break free of borrowed and imposed, labeled signs, the signs of everything not directly one’s own. (His arrests for indecent exposure come to mind--) Back to the degree zero of oneself with nothing except a pen, a writing instrument. Smash the “icy face, impassive and tough” of that future world desired in the Introduction’s opening sentences. And to pass on this message to others via the prosepoem and rebuses of Saint Ghetto
From wanting to be a Priest (or cantor or Archangel) the poet returns to facing the never ending rebellion of an anarchic “outlawed” artist. Pomerand’s illness forced him to retreat more and more from the violent and vibrant activities of his earlier life and social world, and becoming an outsider in this way also confronted him with having to question the absolute necessity of remaining part of a group identity and name. In the words of that great outlaw, convicted manslaughterer, grand larcenist, gallows escaper and officially banished poet Maitre Francois Villon:
“I’m biased against all laws impartially”.
Pomerand writes near the Introduction’s end:
I’d like to reflect on each and every word. I’d like not only to give each one a different subterranean meaning, but also to break its jaw and thus transform the face it apparently intends to possess forever . . .
I hope this book’s morphology borrows means from interior modes of writing and from diverse other manners to better expose its inner workings, the digestive system of the organism.
Moreover, I don’t insist too much on diverse means, for they’re as varied as the universe of graphics.
What’s essential is to not live on what’s inherited, to not accept ill-gotten gains, and to ponder the potential for other, richer meanings.
What’s essential is to reflect on each of these expressions and to find substitutes that go beyond an illustrated Larousse (dictionary).
In Saint Ghetto’s
Introduction, Pomerand makes clear both his debt to Isou and Lettrism and also his independence as an artist and thinker in his own right. Heretically, Pomerand locates and expresses his interests, intentions, ideas and images in phrases which are highly charged and ambiguous at the same time. On the one hand, they sound like the words of an artist who has found himself via Lettrism, been liberated by it into new creation. On the other hand, they can be read as saying, Lettrism gave me a go ahead sign, but it was I found the way and made this map, of Saint Ghetto
. And the map shows that the continual way of creation, the avant-garde, proceeds as something separate from whatever names are put on it, for these end up putting limits on the limitless, or price tags on objects in the market, labels on images in museums. In short, the avant-garde too can become a ghetto, by becoming attached to names, having names attached to it. And as “Saint Ghetto” one can end up worshipping at its shrines and trapped by the hold on one it has by the loans it doles out at exorbitant interests. In Maitre Villon’s understanding of the situation:
“What’s to do? Redeem again my pawned goods!”
No doubt Isou made me a sign once, in the course of I no longer know what lost morning, but not only have I alone made my work, but also all my tools, focusing especially on research fro a system of intrinsic figuration . . .
I want it understood that only the avant-garde of the intelligence itself preoccupies me, and not at all the schools this avant-garde fits into. I dread the day when the name of the invention--which is a phenomenon of commodification--overshadows the real search for transgression.
I love perpetual risk and effort of every kind, whether it is fighting against rules or against the nature of things.
Pomerand lived from day to day, under the bridge one night, in a posh hotel the next. Feast or famine, looking like a bum or dressed like a millionaire. (Vian recounts people’s surprise on finding the married Pomerand always immaculately shaved and coifed and dressed. His wife in their brief marriage, Roxane, to whom Saint Ghetto
is dedicated, was the daughter of the insurance agent for King Farouk of Egypt.) Pomerand had a decidedly Villonesque character to him; in the words of Master Francois:
In my own country, I’m in a distant land
Beside the blaze I’m shivering in flames
Naked as a worm, dressed like a president . . .
I’m sure of nothing but the uncertain
Finding nothing obscure but the obvious
Doubt nothing but the things that are sure
Knowledge to me is mere accident
I keep winning and remain the loser . . .
I never work yet I labor
To acquire goods I don’t want . ., .
I’m biased against all laws impartially
What’s next to do? Redeem my pawned goods again!
People who knew Pomerand during those first roller coaster years noted that the only thing he ever could be counted on to always have in his possession was his beloved ball point pen, then new on the market.
If you look at the history of visual poetry in the West, you will find that very often periods marked by renewed interest in it, and many new explorations and creations in it, coincide with times of appearance of new technical means and techniques of transcribing, copying, printing, and distributing words and images. Saint Ghetto
is also a child of the dawn of the ballpoint pen era.
After 1949, it was more than the uncertainty of his lifestyle that played a part in this growing inner independence from even his attachment to Isou and Lettrism. In that year, the same in which he converted to Greek Catholicism in order to marry, and began work on Saint Ghetto
, Pomerand also learned he had tuberculosis. From the mid-Fifties on, he was quite ill with the disease (sometimes nursed by Juliette Greco) and also had developed a drug habit. (A lifestyle for which he was already well prepared.) He continued to paint and though expelled from the Lettrists in 1956 for “laziness”--despite his devoting his entire life to the movement from 1946-50 and writing five books and many pamphlets, participating in the movement’s most important demonstrations and events--his works continued to be shown in Lettrist exhibits into the 1960’s. (When the Lettriste Internationale split from the Lettrists in 1952, they had purged Pomerand immediately from their ranks on the grounds that he was a “falsifier’ and a “nullity”.) He produced a book for the Livre du Poche in the early 60’s and in 1966 his contribution to drug literature, Le D. Man
, from his experiences with LSD. In 1972, he committed suicide.
Eerily, after singing loudly the praises of Saint Ghetto/Saint-Germain in the book’s first half, Pomerand envisions the horrors of its being turned inside out, the poets being hung, (the haunted shades of Villon), everything happening as though in a chiseling of the first half’s amplifications.
And, the final chiseling, after the exposing of the place as a simulacra which has replaced the original:
Besides there’s no Saint germain des Pres.
There’s only scenery . . .
Saint germain des pres is like Donogoo-Tonga, a neighborhood specially built for the needs of foreign clients--like Venice for American tourists- . . . .
Come firefghters. Come Machinists.
Carry off the scenery of Saint germaine des pres.
You see, there’s no one left, no one, but me, down on my luck, all alone like a dog howling at death in the solitude of an empty desert.
Ending his Introduction, Pomerand notes the doubled meaning at the core of his life’s goal: “Throughout my life, I’ve had no other goal than to be an extremist, at that battlefront which alarm clocks suggest even as they lure us into the traps of life.”
I find myself thinking of the entwined destines of Isidiore Iou and Gabriel Pomerand, two teenagers meeting over 60 years ago in a cafeteria for refugee orphans, even French orphans like Pomerand, arrived from Marseilles. One is advocating a continual renewal and revolution via creativity, the other, who becomes the disciple, is the extremist wanting to be at the battlefronts. One still lives in his apartment near their original meeting place, continually creating, the other, via this book’s bi-lingual reappearance a half-century later, still at the battlefronts.
But just as the alarm clock rings both for battlefronts and the traps of life, so Pomerand’s writing in his Introduction that he “dread(s) the day when the name of the invention . . . overshadows the real search” and that “only the avant-garde of intelligence preoccupies me, and not at all the schools this avant-garde fits into” has a chilling trap to it.
In this case, the trap isn’t life, but one’s place in history.
In 1946, in the scandalous Lettrist Dictatorship
, Pomerand had written: “Dans l’histoire due lettrisme, j’ai ma place fixee a l’avance, cette place qui m’attend deja depuis toujours, comme un tombeau.”
“In the history of Lettrism, my place has been fixed in advance, that place which already has always been waiting for me, like the tomb.”
In honor of Gabriel Pomerand still being at the battlefront, read and look at his book to find him, his work made by his tools, his hands and in his own “write”. And also allow him to tell you about back home and his old friend still living and working there.
In both cases, Pomerand’s Rosetta Stones for you to find and learn the keys to the new hieroglyphs/hypergraphs of his and Lettrism’s.
And besides, since the history is not over, being in continuous creation, and Saint Ghetto
back in circulation in the open air--can we really think that Gabriel Pomerand is in his tomb?
---------[Footnote 1. Those claiming Lettrism’s enormous role in May ’68 are confusing it with Situationism, which, as the Lettrist International, had split from Lettrism in 1952. The LI became the Situationist International in 1957, and played an important part in especially the student events beginning in Strasburg in 1966 with mass dissemination of a Situationist tract “On the Poverty of Student Life”, illegally paid for with University funds, and leading up to and including May 1968 in Paris. Via Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren, the SI had a huge and enduring influence on Punk. Though declared over with in 1972 by founder Guy Debord, the SI continues to inspire, influence, mutate and develop, as well as cause controvery and arguments worldwide. The Situationists’ direct influence on the slogans of May ’68 is well known; Lettrist influences showed up in the making of posters, most often by art students, also by some Lettrists. The poster art, seen in newspaper photos and on tv, influenced posters in other countries that year—USA, Mexico, Czechoslovakia for example. These events and their effects have been astutely mythologized since the interpretations of May ’68 began—in June ’68 of course. Except in mainly student circles in Paris, none of this mattered at the time to the rest of the fifty million people in France, 11 million of whom went on strike on their own. Due to strikes in the transportation, telephone, telegraph, mail, and for a period tv, very little was known for example in Arles, where I lived at the time, of what was happening in Paris. There was some radio news, but always taken with a grain of salt—who in such times would be telling you anything but what they themselves wanted to hear? Besides, everyone was enjoying a month on strike, including against news. I had been reading about Situationism in the newspapers in 1967-8 due to its notoriety from the Strasbourg “scandal”. Some tracts had even reached Arles. Living in Paris in 1969 is when I first encountered Lettrism, by chance seeing a small exhibition of works, mainly posters, attracted by the bright colors and dancing forms.
++++++++++A Few Books in English With Accounts of Pomerand and of LettrismLipstick Traces A Secret History of the Twentieth Century
by Greil Marcus--Dada, Lettrism. Situationism, The Sex Pistols, Punk as modern millenarian movements-lots of documentation, photos, quotes--The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents From Lettrisme to Class War
by Stewart Home a classic--also an assault on lot of the movements included, by a former Neoist--very sardonic humor--very informative-available online here Manuel of Saint Germain des Pres
by Boris Vian On the spot reportage, gossip, history, of the post WW2 years in the neighborhood--Pomearnd has page to himself with photo and brief handwritten sound poem--and several references to him--tons of photos--The Tribe
--interviews with Jean-Michel Mension, lots of photos--this is about the early days of the Lettrist International, after the split with the Lettrists--Guy Debord and company in what Debord saw as the golden age-- Some Lettrist Sites On Line
The major site in English, Kaldron at Light and Dust
Best site by far even if you know no French: the Site Officiel of Lettrisme--endless links to visual works, sound works, news of current exhibition and happenings—etc etc--profusely illustrated with Lettrist works and photos of Lettrists and Lettrist history--http://www.lelettrisme.com
Also a very good Italian site linked to this, in French and Italian: http://lettrisme.org
On-line Lettrist bookstore: http://www.lettrisme.com
As well as blogs--there is a blogger named “Pomerand” always busy with a lot of news and photos for example
For Situationism--the official sites with the original documents in English--and then hundreds of sites, links, blogs, music downloads, video etc
For Lettrist Sound Poetry and Films: ubuweb.com has excellent collection
David Baptiste-Chirot: born in lafayette, indiana, grew up in vermont. lived in gottingen, germany, arles & paris, france, hastveda, sweden, wroclaw, poland, boston and milwaukee. since 1997 essays, poetry, visual poety, performance/event scores, sound poetry, prose poetry have appeared in 90+ print journals, dozens of web journals and sites, 300 mail art calls. several books: found rubBEings
(Xerolage 32) ANARKEYOLOGY
(Lulu) ZERO POEM
(singlepress) HUNG ER
(neotrope) and chapbooks, work in many anthologies in USA and UK. google search david baptiste chirot / blog: davidbaptistechirot.blogspot.com
. "I work with a profound faith and energy in the found, everywhere and always to be found."