Attention to the music of Julius Eastman has had a major resurgence (one might more accurately say resurrection) since I started writing these poems roughly three years ago. Contributing to this resurgence have been countless performances of his works internationally in spaces for visual art, music, and contemporary dance, as well as an increasing amount of scholarship devoted to the composer. When I turned to Eastman, it was largely on account of my longtime interest in his milieus, principally that of the University of Buffalo and Upstate New York in the late 60s and early 70s, and of Manhattan’s Downtown and Disco scenes in the late 70s and 80s. Many poems from the larger manuscript of “Eastman” are engaged with these milieus and the intricate and intense social histories which they embody. Likewise, as with many of the poems I have written after artists and art works over the years, “Eastman” has offered me an opportunity to explore aesthetic practices other than my own and develop new (to myself) techniques for writing. For instance, a simple procedure that guides many of the poems here is to only write while listening to Eastman’s recorded music, a procedure I developed in the spirit of the “structured improvisations” of the composer’s collaborator, Arthur Russell. Yet another procedure which has guided the project is that of transcribing words and sounds. In the case of the former, I have a tendency to mishear (sung) language, which leads to some interesting transliterative effects, but which may also take-up what Fred Moten calls the “non-reduction of phonic substance,” a concept that has been generative both for my writing and teaching practices for over a decade. As the project deepens, and I listen more deeply—not just to Eastman’s works in themselves, but for their socio-political contexts and occasions—the richer and more nuanced I feel my relationship with the music becomes. Given Eastman’s penchant for allegory, and for a sort of virtuosic tricksterism, such a richness would seem inexhaustible despite the tragic dearth of his archive (many of his works were never recorded or recorded badly, and many of his scores were lost in a housing eviction in the late 80s, not long before his death at 49). This project is also indebted to the collective efforts of many scholars and thinkers who have made Eastman’s archive possible, not least of all Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach whose groundbreaking anthology, Gay Guerrilla, provides an invaluable resource for understanding Eastman’s biography and work. The music library at SUNY-Buffalo was kind enough to grant me access to otherwise unavailable archival recordings of Eastman performances, which accounts for the poems “Macle” and “440.” Thank you in particular to John Bewley, Associate Librarian and Archivist at the library.
Monday, September 23, 2019
A few of my poems from EASTMAN, a new poetry ms., are up at Fence's beautiful Elecment. Profuse gratitude to Emily Wallis Hughes and her team for careful editing and inspiring design! Oh, and the feature includes extensive video footage of Julius Eastman performing "Stay On It" with SEM Ensemble circa 1973.
Wednesday, July 03, 2019
Bittersweet to be part of this remembrance for a writer, community member, and friend without equal. I love you, Kevin!
Friday, June 21, 2019
I was fortunate enough to meet Warren Niesluchowski a few years back during this interview at CUE with Simon Leung and Sreshta Rit Premnath. He was a gentle soul, and an incredibly relevant artist for our times given his signature practice of itinerancy
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Avi Alpert asked me and some others to write responses to Asad Haider's book Mistaken Identity for ASAP/Journal, so I did, here: http://asapjournal.com/i-tried-to-be-a-socialist-thom-donovan/?fbclid=IwAR3B1HGk-YFN_FXthi32pGYDEdhYkivi0HAEoCkTvLw9QBMdzhsCnv-Uyh4
Monday, June 10, 2019
Left Melancholic @ Patreon is an archive for writings and other materials dating back to 1999, including published and unpublished poems, essays, statements, notes, and criticism. It will also present an open notebook/studio for incubating current projects. By supporting this page you can contribute to my livelihood as a writer and independent researcher. To subscribe click on the button in the right-hand column.
Monday, April 29, 2019
I have a contribution in this wonderful and curious anthology, edited by Carla Nappi and Dominic Pettman, devoted to “incoherent geography”!
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
When in your life have you wanted to write, but couldn’t? When have you had to stop writing? How did this affect your sense of being a writer? How may it have changed your writing?
In what ways is writing separate from your other practices, and in what ways is it integrated? Do you intend writing to be separate from other things you do? If so, why? Would you like to integrate them better? If so, how might you accomplish this?
Describe a project you have abandoned, whether a writing project or something else, that you would like to return to. Why would you like to return to it? What problems do you foresee in returning to it and attempting to revisit, revise, or complete it?
In what ways is duration an active quality in your work? How does the passing of time (or the fact of time having passed) contribute to what you produce as a writer/artist?
Given the fact that under misogynist racial capitalism we all live with intermittent crises to varying degrees and in different ways (whether racial discrimination, gendered violence, the exploitation of our labor, sickness, poverty, displacement, a lack of resources, etc.), how have such crises shaped your processes as a writer/artist? With the manifestation of a work, do these crises remain present in the work? If so, how?
In the absence of such crises, how might you hope to write or make work differently?
In what ways has “failure” facilitated the making of your work? Describe a work you have made that has been a “success” insofar as it has manifested from, or managed to address, its beginnings in failure?
In what ways does “not writing” (non-productivity) constitute a rhythm/rhythms for your work (productivity)?
Have you ever stopped writing/making for an ethical and/or political reason? If so, describe. What, if anything, were the consequences of stopping? In what ways may this “stopping” have produced something of value, albeit inadvertently?
Are there certain subjects or is there certain content that you feel your work can only address negatively, through their exclusion; which is to say, by not writing about them, or by only addressing them through restraint? If so, describe.
Are there ways you feel like you cannot write? Are there genres that you feel you cannot write in, because you are barred from writing in them, or because you feel that they do not serve you or others like you? If so, describe.
What genres most serve you and others like you? What genres do you feel you need to invent, because they may be able to serve yourself and others like you? What, if any, genres should be abandoned, avoided, or abolished?
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Friday, March 08, 2019
The following readings and presentation have been added to my PennSound author page:
Internal Presentation, Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany, August 2014
"Delays in Glass: Social Media Poetics" Talk at Virginia Commonwealth University, November 2014
"The Art of Withdrawal" Talk for Patrick F. Durgin's "Poetics of Agony" course, Art Institute of Chicago, October 2015
Reading with Cassandra Troyan at Sector 2337, Chicago, IL, October 28, 2015
Segue Series Reading at the Zinc Bar, April 15, 2017
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Thanks to friend and artist-editor extraordinaire Max Razdow for including an essay of mine (on occult poetics) in the 2nd issue of his journal, Speculative Arts Research. "What, I wonder, becomes the sense of theory (or a theory of the senses) when one becomes synaesthesiac in the wake of the disaster; when what we see also makes us hear (or touch, or smell, or taste)? Where hearing in fact supersedes seeing, overcoming the hegemony of the ocular? [...] What, too, if our common sense involves a negation of the senses? A withdrawal into the eidetic, the subtle; into non-representational modes of meaning-making (such are sound and gesture and movement)? At what point does language, as that upon which our common sense largely depends, become non-meaningful, does it refuse the reduction of “nonmeaning” and “phonic substance” for a “universal grammar” [...]?"
Thursday, September 27, 2018
Monday, July 30, 2018
Week 1 Manifestos
Recommended book: Mary Ann Caws’s Manifestos (anthology)
Exercise: With a critical sense of the manifesto as a “genre” of (art) writing, compose an original manifesto addressing your work and beliefs as an artist. To the extent that your work is collaborative/group-oriented, consider how your manifesto may also represent the interests of your collaborators/group?
Week 2 Typography
Recommended texts: An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (ed. Emmett Williams), Hollis Frampton’s Zorn’s Lemma (film), Adam Pendleton’s Becoming Imperceptible, and N.H. Pritchard’s The Matrix
Exercise: Using any medium/format, compose an original work of art that uses typography in a significant way. How may your use of typography draw attention to current conditions of print technologies (online and off)? How might it also investigate how typography has been used historically in advertising, printed matter, signage, fashion, and/or other works of art? What do your choices of font and design values intend?
Week 3 Artists’ Books
Recommended books: Johanna Drucker’s A Century of Artists’ Books and Artists’ Books: Visual Studies Workshop Press 1971-2008
Exercise: Produce an original artists’ book. How may your own book extend, critique, and/or revisit a previous discourse of artists’ books? In what ways may your book not be merely a vessel for other works of art, but a work of art in itself? To what extent can the book’s construction and choices of materials (physical or digital) inflect certain aesthetic, cultural, and socio-political values? To what extent may your book function performatively, gesturally, and/or theatrically?
Week 4 Feminisms
Recommended books: M/E/A/N/I/N/G (ed. Susan Bee & Mira Schor); We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 A Sourcebook.
Exercise: Consider the historical use of language/text by various feminist-identified artists. Create an original work of art that mediates your “feminism” through the use of language. To what extent are particular uses of language gendered? What is the relationship between language and embodiment (a principal concern of many feminist artists)? How, too, may language express a content specific to women (whether cis-identified, trans, or otherwise)?
Week 5 Performance Writing + Screenplay
Recommended texts: Rituals of Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama (Whitney Museum catalogue), PAJ Journal (ed. Bonnie Marranca)
Recommended artists: Trisha Baga, Guy Ben Ner, Sadie Benning, Gregg Bordowitz, Mark Bradford, Janet Cardiff, Omer Fast, Richard Foreman, Coco Fusco, General Idea, Melanie Gilligan, Sharon Hayes, Adam Pendleton, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, Mike Kelley, Kalup Linzy, Shana Moulton, Adam Pendleton, Yvonne Rainer, Martha Rosler, Hito Steyerl, Catherine Sullivan, Ryan Trecartin, Kara Walker, Robert Wilson.
Exercise: Compose a script for film, video, the stage, or public space. How does language function gesturally and/or via a set of theatrical and/or cinematic conventions (cf. Catherine Sullivan)? To what extent is your use of language a function of genre (cf. Sullivan and Melanie Gilligan)? How can you produce comedy and pathos in your work (cf. Robert Wilson, Kalup Linzy, Yvonne Rainer, Guy Ben Ner, Gilligan, Mark Bradford, and General Idea)? Consider how you wish your writing to be performed/staged (where? to whom? with the use of what props and/or actors?). Consider how you may involve others (actors, bystanders, an audience)? Do you wish to make interventions in a particular space or among a particular community (cf. Sharon Hayes)? How may your performance be enhanced by video post-production technologies and/or installation (cf. Shana Moulton and Ryan Trecartin)?
Week 6 Diaries and Journalism
Recommended artists: Vito Acconci, Etel Adnan, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dodie Bellamy, Cara Benedetto, Gregg Bordowitz, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Moyra Davey, Tracey Emin, Simone Forti, Juliana Huxtable, Chris Kraus, Eileen Myles, Trisha Low, Lee Lozano, Bernadette Mayer, Adrian Piper, Yvonne Rainer, Paul Thek, Hannah Weiner, Matias Viegener, David Wojnarowicz.
Exercise: Using an existing set of journals/diaries (your own or another’s) compose an original work of art. OR: start a journal/diary that may become (part of) a work of art. Consider how journals and diaries have been used by other artists. What qualities differentiate diaristic and journalistic writing? How do these types of writing inflect time differently? How might they create different senses of immediacy and intimacy? How may they offer a means to tell a story about yourself or others that might be impossible to tell through other forms of writing?
Week 7 Materiality
Recommended books: Liz Kotz’s Words to be Looked At, Craig Dworkin’s Reading the Illegible, Susan Howe’s The Birthmark, Jerome McGann’s The Textual Condition, Fred Moten’s In the Break, and Poetry Plastique exhibition catalogue (ed. Charles Bernstein & Jay Sanders).
Recommended artists: Ian Hamilton Finley, Susan Howe, Lev Rubinstein, Robert Smithson, Cecilia Vicuña, Lawrence Weiner.
Week 8 Artists’ Magazines
Recommended book: Gwen Allen’s Artists’ Magazines (anthology) [see appendix for a comprehensive listing of artists’ magazines].
Recommended magazines: LTTR (Ginger Brooks Takahashi et al), Dot Dot Dot (Dexter Sinister), Shifter (ed., Sreshta Rit Premnath), The Lay of the Land Newsletter (Center for Land Use Interpretation), 0 to 9 (ed. Bernadette Mayer & Vito Acconci)
Week 9 Instruction/Prompt/Questionnaire
Recommended book series: Collective Task (ed. Rob Fitterman et al)
Recommended artists: John Cage, CA Conrad, Robert Gluck, Bhanu Kapil, Ben Kinmont, Alison Knowles, Sol LeWitt, Lee Lozano, Georges Maciunus, Jackson Mac Low, Yoko Ono, Benjamin Patterson, Georges Perec.
Exercise: Compose a set of instructions or prompts for a work to be performed by yourself and/or others. In composing your instructions/prompt, consider what you would like to achieve through your own or another’s actions? Do these actions reflect critically on a state of affairs or set of relations (Ben Kinmont)? Do they intend to depersonalize the one instructed (cf. Jackson Mac Low, John Cage)? Do they allow the instructed to access desirable modes of attention (cf. Cage, Georges Perec)? Are they meant to be works of art in themselves? Do they ask one to do the impossible and as such become purely speculative and/or prefigural? To what extent may they enable alternative modes of production (cf. Collective Task)? Consider the elegance and economy of your words in composing your instructions/prompts.
Week 10 Orality/Duration/Transcription/Scoring
Recommended artists: David Antin, Amiri Baraka, Steve Benson, Kamau Braithwaite, David Buuck, John Cage, M. NourbeSe Philip, Cecil Taylor, Joey Yearous-Algozin, Andy Warhol.
Exercise: Compose an original work using any of the following methods: 1. By recording and transcribing a conversation or set of conversations (cf. Warhol); 2. By improvising and recording a talk and editing your talk for the page (cf. David Antin and Steve Benson); 3. By transcribing and scoring two minutes of audio; 4. By transcribing your own or someone else’s language phonetically (cf. Kamau Braithwaite).
Week 11 Detournment/Reappropriation/Tactical Art
Recommended artists: Alexandra Bell, Critical Art Ensemble, General Idea, Glenn Ligon, Not an Alternative, Pictures Generation (Jenny Holtzer, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine), Keith and Mendi Obadike, Situationist International, The Yes Men.
Exercise: In what ways are detournment, reappropriation, and tactical art still effective as means of intervening in a “society of the spectacle” (cf. Situationist International)? How can the media be “jammed” and “hacked” to create novel situations that redress social wrongs and/or create conditions of possibility for ‘another world’ (The Yes Men, Critical Art Ensemble, Not an Alternative)? How may the reappropriation of words, pictures, sounds, and media enable you to explore your identity or perform another (Glenn Ligon, Pictures Generation)? To what extent does language function through re/contextualization? Create an original work of art that addresses any or all of these concerns.
Week 12 Between Drawing, Painting, and Writing
Recommended artists: Etel Adnan, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joseph Beuys, Renee Gladman, Philip Guston, Keith Haring, Douglas Kearney, Robert Kocik, Henri Michaux, Matt Mullican, Carolee Schneemann, Cy Trombly.
Exercise: Compose an original work of art that exists between ‘drawing’/’painting’ and ‘writing’ (cf. Etel Adnan)? How do words and letters attain graphic values and vice versa? How may you use words calligraphically, ideogrammatically, hiero- or petro-glyphically? To what extent are the visual and aural senses of written language inextricable?
Week 13 Fictions
Recommended artists/groups: Etel Adnan, Arakwa Gins, Bernadette Corporation, The Atlas Group/Walid Raad, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Alexander Provan, Tan Lin, Jalal Toufic.
Exercise: Consider the adoption of fiction by artists historically. How have artists used the genre to create stories and narratives about their cultural and/or society? To what extent is fiction adopted to challenge narrative conventions and official notions of ‘truth’? How might fictions be employed as a response to personal and widespread cultural trauma (cf. The Atlas Group/Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic)? In what ways does fiction challenge dominant epistemes and technological paradigms (Alexander Provan)? How might fiction allow the artist a means to play with notions of self and/or cultural identity (cf. Tan Lin, Jalal Toufic)?
Week 14 Poetry and Art
Recommended artists/groups: Cara Benedetto, Bernadette Corporation, Gregg Bordowitz, Paul Chan, Dada, Jimmie Durham, Juliana Huxtable, Steffani Jemison, Arnold J. Kemp, Ralph Lemon, Claire Pentecost, Isaac Pool, William Pope.L, Dmitry Prigov, Bunny Rodgers, Yvonne Rainer
Exercise: Historically, artists and visual artists have been in conversation and collaboration with one another. Oftentimes artists have trespassed into poetry and vice versa. Sometimes artists start out as poets; less frequently, poets start as visual artists. How might you use poetry as a mode or medium for your art? To what extent are you in dialogue with poets—do you read them and take something vital from their ways of working? Do you consider yourself to have a ‘practice’ as a poet, and if so do you differentiate this from your practice as an artist? Inasmuch as contemporary poets and visual artists exist in very different economies, if not communities, how does ‘value’ affect the choices you make to be an artist, a poet, or both? Compose a poem or series of poems that inflect any or all of the problems I have outlined here.