Saturday, April 25, 2009

Death to all Projects?

Dorothea Lasky has posted her treatise on why poets should avoid the term "project" as a convenient term to describe their ongoing work. Personally, I don't use the word since it connotes knowing what one is going to do before having done it, a predetermination, or prehension. I also associate it with many of the worst elements of Modernity (the Knowledge project, the Colonialist project, genocidal projects, etc.). Isn't the very notion of project what we've been working against after Modernity (as a project itself)? I prefer the term problem to project. Since poetry is an expert discourse, why shouldn't poets conceive more accurate terms to describe the status of their work?

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Strike for Rod Smith

What buttons to push
And what peaches how
Much would they be

Worth when every one
Demands a pound of
Flesh both gods and

Men in the eyes of la-
bor true value cries from
The wings dissembles

Power is power which-
ever forms it assumes
In this night of virtual

Demonstrations what
It would mean to find
Those buttons you speak

To those peaches to
Which Jack Spicer refers
What would we with-

draw from ourselves
To make a strike that
We have not with-

drawn already to make
The poem a kind of re-
distribution of wealth?

Health Care as a Human Right

Here is an interview at Democracy Now about a movement abreast in Montana arguing for Universal Health Care as a Human Right. It is such a sea change of thinking, which renders completely inadequate the current "private"/"public" oriented debates about health care reform in the United States, that is badly needed now...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Younger Than Jesus at New Museum

This is one of the better art shows I've seen in a long time, especially large group shows/retros. What is especially impressive is how the show actually captures a generational range and spirit among people age 25-33 (rough estimate of artists' ages in show). While the work is not overladen with computer-based art, there is also a pervasive sense of how Web 2.0 in particular is changing the way we think about art as a social activity/product. And, as Jerry Saltz suggests, how an emergent generation of artists are the vanguard of a new affective culture.

Brandon Brown on Disaster Suites

I have been enjoying Brandon Brown's conversational blog, HI, which is ever breezy and yet concise (a rare quality in criticism). Here goes the longish entry, which you can also find here if you scroll down for awhile:

"1. Yes, I’ve been living with Rob Halpern’s Disaster Suites. There is so much to think about and so many various ways the conversation could go, but maybe I could just make some mentions.

For one thing, there is the fascinatingly fraught relationship with the lyric that’s both performed and discussed. In the prose piece which comes after the suites themselves, “Post Disaster,” Rob writes, “I hope these poems don’t persist. Or rather, I hope the conditions that make them readable do not.” This is shocking for the perhaps obvious reason that the lyric has always been obsessed with its own preservation. Catullus and Horace, to some degree typical of classical lyric practice, inscribed into their verses prayers that their works would endure. I read these sentences in Disaster Suites as the negative of those prayers. The “rather” is hopelessly, beautifully emblematic of the paradoxical desires and intentions that constitute so much of the text. How would you read an illegible work? Except, there is a way in which the world that makes such work illegible could then be read as bearing meaning. Or something like that.

There’s a terrific paradox in which what is to be desired is refusal itself, performed in the world No! One wants to say no to the disaster, no to the conditions that permeate and structure disaster. It’s a gorgeous affirmation of the desire to negate—but, viz. the last lines of the suites:

In words with no future we seek portals
Holes and faults hew new relations quicken
Chasing that persistent and ongoing no!

The meaning of the word “hew” and its use here really evokes Oppen for me, someone who I know is terribly important to Rob. To “hew” of course means to cut and to fashion. Like “render.” This chase after negation is critical for so many reasons: the “troika” of police, state, and capital demands obedience (framed as “yes”), the media representation around disaster is inevitably productive of, not resistant to, the disaster. The proliferation of imagery and analysis (Rob mentions the racialized distinction between “looting” and “finding” in post-Katrina coverage) is a sort of persistent and ongoing yes! to the disaster, etc.

There’s so much more to say—maybe there are things I’ll be able to say in the future (besides omfg stop reading fucking talking points and read this book), but I also think that this book demonstrates that uncanny relationship with the lyric in its form. I mean, this is so hard to talk about, so do you mind if quote:

So then I woke up wondering about the multitude
And whether I could ever vocally be a part of that i-
Dea or thing or whether I’d get stuck just trying to

---This is one stanza in one poem in one suite of the book and utterly excised out of its context. Sorry. But I find this so prosodically rich. The question “could I ever be a part of that I” emerges from “that idea”, following on an “I” which wonders about the multitude. It’s as if the statement is thus both “I woke up wondering whether I could be a vocal part of the multitude.” and “I woke up wondering whether I could be a vocal part of the multitude which after all is just an “I”.”
But then notice the repetition of length. The first and third lines are 14 syllables. The middle line is 15 syllables, or “one off”—that extra syllable at the end? “I” “I” then figures in this moment also as a surplus or excess; or appendix; or, to reference another anxiety of the book, it’s what you find when you start to count.

There are like dozens of moments in this text where such formal stratifications are at play."
--Brandon Brown

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nationalization of Banks and Auto-Industry?

Why is there not a strong and vocal movement abreast to nationallize (dare I say socialize) the banks and auto corporations that have been bailed out by the Obama admin/Geithner?

Is there one, and I'm just not aware of it?

If there is to finally be socialism in this country, shouldn't this be a ripe moment for it to come about?

Any info wld be appreciated in comment boxes or at tadonovan [at] hotmail [dot] com.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I wish there was
is the name of a

site where you c
an do a want and

perchance it will
come true. Sounds

marvelous makes
n't it? The site

Iwishtherewas can
assist you encou

nter a solution
to your job. The

thought is great
I conceive, beca

use not simply is
it a opportunity

to verily chance
that solution, b

ut too because it
Holds the follow

ing logical meas
ure for companies

to cognize what p
eople really des

ire. All you sho
uld make is dire

ct in your want a
nd wait for a com

pany to pick it u
pwards. Or you may

happen out that
there already is

a solution to your
job! It is ally in

line with the ten
dency of utilizi

ng people (crowds)
to market your th

oughts or get fee
dback on your mer

chandises. See be
sides crowd sourc

ing. That is all
about linking peo

ple and companies
to excogitate bet

ter wares or to me
liorate merchandi

ses. Increasingly
the net is seen as

a spot where there
is more info, but

where there is a w
hole rootage of no

esis and thoughts,
free to utilize for

everybody. And, peo
ple care to be heard!

*all language lifted from

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Plan

The plan is not the
Body as Creeley once
Wrote there is no

Plan not even the body
Is a plan my body wrote
And yours wrote where

We becomes one sub-
ject and theirs is an
Allergen to the dermis

Beginning in this situ-
ation to become these
Hives arrive what

Better oversensitivity
To matter little co-
lonies of them on

My hands without
Keeper my body sov-
ereign and your tears

This I this you apart it
Is situational an event
But it isn't a plan

Pain is not a plan
Irritation is not a plan
It is a mood defining

Our relationship to
Things mediated by
The skin 90% holes

Whenever I let you
Whenever you let
The world in what

Forms will this pro-
duce what will emerge
Through stress related

To the surface the
Body is an environment
It is an ecology but

It is not a plan it is
A hiccup to being
Also that which we

Notice conspicuous
When it breaks down
The flesh perhaps

That is the body con-
stituting itself an event
Inappropriate like

Everything else par-
ticular what gestures
It will bring what

Breakdown and un-
known causes these
Are also a metaphysics

Truth of matter when
It erupts there is an I
More sympathetic with

We there is an em-
pathy one feels with
One's self as though

It were another observing
Its symptoms and ef-
fects from afar the plan

Is not the body the body
Is an event amidst
Other events the body

Is an ethic which makes
An I them translating
Distances through skin.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reading with WE ARE SCIENCE this Sunday in DC

I am reading with WE ARE SCIENCE (Jon Lee and Adam Good) this coming Sunday at the DC Arts Center in Washington D.C. Thanks to Tina Darragh for organzing the reading!

Sunday, April 19, 3:00 pm
Adam Good & Jon Lee are WE ARE SCIENCE & Thom Donovan
@ DC Arts Center

2438 18th Street in Adams Morgan
(south of Columbia Rd. on the west side of the street)
All readings are on third Sundays at 3 PM, Admission $3, FREE for DCAC members

Chomsky on "too big to fail" and the recent push for nationalized healthcare

Perhaps useful for thinking about recent corporate bail-outs, and changes in "public" opinion about nationalizing healthcare:

The next corporatist encroachment

The end of an era?

And yet bandwidth prices continue to fall?

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Am For the Pirates*

I am for the pirates
Who take what they want

When nothing's left
And haven't hijacked

The economy and don't
Block social welfare

Reform or laws to ensure
Universal health coverage

For all but who have to
Get theirs all the same

Even if it means taking
A few American hostages

Which is just a curfuffle
In this night of exceptions

Which is not even a skirmish
In this ridiculous night

Of substance I want their
Different lawlessness to

Prevail because the laws
Of the sea seem more fair

Than a presidential veto or
NATO or the U.N. or any other

Form of democracy so far.

*The following is from a transcript of an interview journalist Amy Goodman conducted with Mohamed Abshir Waldo, author of "The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why One Ignores the Other?"

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Can you talk about what you think the two piracies are?

MOHAMED ABSHIR WALDO: Well, the two piracies are the original one, which was foreign fishing piracy by foreign trawlers and vessels, who at the same time were dumping industrial waste, toxic waste and, it also has been reported, nuclear waste. Most of the time, we feel it’s the same fishing vessels, foreign fishing vessels, that are doing both. That was the piracy that started all these problems.

And the other piracy is the shipping piracy. When the marine resources of Somalia was pillaged, when the waters were poisoned, when the fish was stolen, and in a poverty situation in the whole country, the fishermen felt that they had no other possibilities or other recourse but to fight with, you know, the properties and the shipping of the same countries that have been doing and carrying on the fishing piracy and toxic dumping.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

This martian framework

This martian framework
The brain that is not
In the head the hands
That are not there because

Language may have failed
Our anthems of being
The fact that we are silt
And words the bedrock

At the bottom of all our
Myths shifting as they do
The imagination is vivi-
parous to all culture.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Put your hands in the air
Guilty as charged
A name must deserve
Its identification with the dead

No pronouns any more
Just the helplessness of being
Gestures you were searching for

On the forest floor
In the pastoral that was
Never ours
To claim as true or burn

Someone fires a flare
And it was as if we were
Not here watching
The world in its emergency

This is all the despair
One needs to cease
In systems they didn’t make

But cannot undo yet
The bridges the borders the
Bodies that we are do not

Constitute a crisis
It is this economy this
Everyday finality
Which constitutes a crisis.

Cinematic Courtrooms in Indian Films at 16 Beaver

For the evening, Lawrence will be talking about ‘Juridical Affect: Cinematic Courtrooms in Indian Film’. According to Lawrence, the relationship between law and cinema has to be one of the most well guarded public secrets in the world of legal theory and film theory. This is a world where the game of republican democracy is played out, not in public institutions of justice, but in shadow courtrooms instituted in cinema screens across the country, where the accused is neither the petty thief nor the dreaded murderer, but the Indian legal system itself. Lawrence’s presentation will examine the relationship between ideas of love, justice and recognition as they unfold in cinematic courtrooms, and will argue that cinema serves as the affective archive of the juridical unconscious.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


On Certainity on VIMEO

Here are the readings and panel discussion from last weekend's event on VIMEO:

Thom Donovan - Readings 'On Certainty' from On Certainty on Vimeo.

Discussion 'On Certainty': Thom Donovan, John Keene, Stuart Krimko, Katy Lederer, Christopher Stackhouse from Shifter Magazine on Vimeo.

Discussion 'On Certainty' (contd.): Thom Donovan, John Keene, Stuart Krimko, Katy Lederer, Christopher Stackhouse from Shifter Magazine on Vimeo.

Choir Praxis at The Brooklyn Rail

Here is a piece I wrote for The Brooklyn Rail on Daria Fain's and Robert Kocik's Phoneme Choir. The Phoneme Choir will perform May 4th at Judson Memorial Church for the Movement Research Festival:

If you would like to participate in the Phoneme Choir please check-out the choir's workshop schedule below:

Sunday, April 19 5:30 – 8:30pm ($20) @ Eden's Expressway
Sunday, April 26 (TWO CLASSES) from 11:00-4:00 at the CSV Cultural Center (location info below)
& 5:30 – 8:30pm @ Eden's Expressway
May 2 4:30 – 7:30pm & May 3 5:30 – 8:30pm (final weekend) @ Eden's Expressway
PERFORMANCE May 4, 2009 Movement Research at the Judson Church, 8pm

Location for Sunday, April 26, morning class:
CSV Cultural Center 107 Suffolk St 2nd Fl NYC, NY 10002
(show on Google Maps)
B,D, F, J, M, V, Z trains

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hedge Funds (On Certainty)

Is that all art is good for time
Equals poetry equals risk equals
Money but your face is privi
leged you still have a face to

Understand your certainties
Uncertainties flexing of negative
Capability which is another
Name for power distraction I

Realize there is also a gamble
To seeming ingenuous enshrouded
By the white cube an air of
Gentility shares the mic is able

To make propositions one may
Not actually believe in because
They don’t have a name to move
Or act in the poem for the poem’s

Sake being artful absents all the
Misery a language grounds gains
Ground in the amplification of
Prosaics who your friends are

Who you are your platform when
The world is not as economic as
You say driven by finance there
Is no equating reasonably the

Shoah with Ponzi schemes the
Emptiness of your "findings" Afri
can babies when your teeth lock
Into a Hockney pose I smell the

Hackneyed stench of wealth not
Risk not vigilance or the search
For what the poem can do written
By one subject to time and chance.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Statement for On Certainty

The problem of discourse pragmatics has troubled poetry for some time. By discourse pragmatics I mean the same thing as when Wittgenstein writes “language games”. That is, what does it mean to speak in a certain way, through a certain set of rules, in a particular situation of address. Discourse pragmatics, as a problem in poetry, is here to stay. In fact, it may be the problem poetry is most suited to address, if not solve.

Why is this? Because page poetry (poetry that is written for the page) if it is relevant, is constantly concerned with the ways that it can mean, and beyond meaning, evoke discourse. By recognizing ways that it can mean it is not merely acting contemplatively or descriptively, but as a form of action. I believe this fact is what Gertrude Stein gets at through much of her writing, but especially in her lecture “Composition as Explanation”. It is also a problem often noted throughout George Oppen’s work, not least of which in his daybooks and papers where the poet speaks of the difference between political activism and poetic action:

"I think the question asked more frankly would be: is it more important to produce art or to engage in ˆtake political actionˆ. Of course I cannot pretend to answer such a question. I could point this out, however, that art and political action are in precise opposition in this regard: that it can always be quite easily shown that political action is going to be valuable; it is very difficult to ever prove that it has been in the past ˆthat political action has been valuableˆ. Whereas art is precisely the opposite case; it seems always impossible to prove that it is going to be valuable, and yet it is always quite clear that in the past it has been. ˆthe art of the past has been of value to humanity. I offer it only as a suggestion that art lacks in political action, not action. One does what he is most moved to do.ˆ" (Daybooks, 89; crossed-out passages have been indicated by bold font)

Certainty, as far as I understand it in Wittgenstein’s context, concerns the ways that belief, knowledge, and experience involve action, decision-making, and consequence. Why would we write anything if we didn’t mean it? Why would we say anything if we didn’t intend those words to have an effect?

It would be naïve to believe that the poet intends everything they write. But writing is a matter of craft, and craft is a problem of intention. When I write something I do not always know where the writing is going to lead me (in this way all writing is “experimental,” to use a term popular nowadays); but I do know that to continue writing will reveal what it means to write anything in time.

If one loves the world, poetry (or philosophy) will be just a small part of what they do. It will be a guide to action. It will be an action, that is, that can ground other actions, meanings, experiences, understandings, interactions. For me, personally, the poem is a learning tool, a processing device, a lab experiment, a disclosure of experience, a way of telling someone I am in love with them, or they are friend, or to fuck-off; it is also an ethic, insofar as it allows differences to enter into thought-processes that are not normally permitted, or allowed to be expressed adequately otherwise. I hope that my poems may give others pleasure, and be open to others’ experience, however indeterminacy is not the intention of my work. If anything, to reach the indeterminate, I believe one tends to do so only through a more rigorous mediation of their materials whether by procedure or the intensification of their practice via research, conversation, and further thinking.

In the past thirty years, the United States has been under attack from within. This attack has been political, economic, and legal. It has also been immensely cultural. The perpetrators of this political and economic attack include, primarily, our politicians and the economic superstructure that has put them into power. During this time, it seems no coincidence that the poetry that has been most popular, and garnered the most support from our politicians, is one whose battle cry is “common sense”. Most of these poets who call for a common sense—our laureates, for one—are poets that have opposed our politicians through their vote and through public statement. Yet, the fact that they have power and wield what power they have in the ways that they do makes them complicit with those powers that they would oppose in their statements about politics and through their votes. That these poets do not tend to equate language power—and the powers of poetry specifically—with political power, seems unforgiveable after the past century of political error.

But any poetry that really matters, any cultural production for that matter, overturns common sense for the sake of common sense. That is, it does not take common sense as a priori—something that is given within a culture facilitated by language—but questions language as the very ground for all experience whether ontological, political, ethical, legal or otherwise.

When I think of our various laureates of the Bush years, I lament that a poet like Robert Creeley, or Nathaniel Mackey, or Anne Waldman, or Susan Howe (for only four of many possible candidates) should not have become our national laureates instead of Billy Collins, Louise Gluck, Mark Strand and others. The fact that such poets should have become laureates, and come to champion common sense is a travesty for our country. It is concomitant with the other disasters the world has faced at the hands of United States.

The only poetry or art that should matter (and I would separate the status of poetry and art right now insofar as art has become a major commodity, while poetry remains something less valued as a commodity by our culture) is that vetted by a culture that cares about the history of poetry and art, and that makes work from the ground up—from the very ground that language is. This is different than producing a poem which can be understood by the most number of people, and is therefore populist in the most vulgar of ways.

Poetries create the conditions necessary to change culture, and via culture larger spheres of social activity, organization, consciousness, and behavior. In order to have the culture we want, we must also scrutinize the role of the arts, and the privilege of the poet to speak as both a member of a specialized discourse (poetry), and as a citizen who wishes to present their special view of the social through the ways they use language. All of this goes against one traditional view that poetry is useless, merely a luxury/leisure activity. Poetry may not be instrumental—or should not be—but has use value insofar as it provides a readership with a way to ground experience in language in both critically reflective and sensual ways. When poetry fails to ground language in such ways, a culture has failed. Despite the proliferation of poetry in the past thirty years, poetry culture and the culture at large have failed as such.

Think poetry, act locally. Those who love poetry’s prospects to change culture will organize for poetry at a local and personal level, recognizing all the while that advancing poetry is not what is in question as a goal or result. Rather, what is in question, is the transformation of culture through the ways language and other cultural valuables are used.

The organizers of this symposium have asked us to comment on the role of poetry in terms of "witness". To close, I think that bearing witness is one of the great values of poetry. This is because the problem of witness is always a problem of how language use establishes justice adequately. While many poets have sutured legal and poetic language games in the past century with very good reasons, this task of the poet goes on. What language expression can possibly present the case of those unlawfully detained, or displaced because of U.S.-centric geopolitics, or the victim of racial, class, gender, and sexual discrimination? The solution is not merely to elegize or represent the oppressed as so many poems do, but to act, gesture, perform, and present the case of how language itself has created the conditions for injustice that could produce a need for witness. By such means would poetry, or any language-based practice, create the conditions for justice and better living for all. How this happens happens through the most personal, intersubjective, and roundabout of means.

Friday, April 03, 2009

from On Certainty

97. The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other. [...]
99. And the bank of that river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alteration or only to an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed away, or deposited.

Damn the Caesars blog

For those who may not have noticed it yet, Rich Owens has been publishing some substantial reviews and notes at his mag's blog, Damn the Caesars, including this one on Rob Halpern's and Taylor Brady's collaboration, Snow Sensitive Skin:
and this on Michael Cross' In Felt Treeling:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On Certainty

Christopher Stackhouse has generously invited me to read work, and discuss Wittgenstein's On Certainty. I appreciate very much the opportunity to focus attention through a single text, and cross-examine problems shared by poetry and philosophy...

On Certainty - Readings at Bose Pacia

Saturday, April 4, 2pm-5pm

Thom Donovan

John Keene

Stuart Krimko

Katy Lederer

Organized by: Christopher Stackhouse

The readings will take place at:

508 W 26th St 11C
New York NY 10001

This presentation is part of the project "On Certainty" curated by Sreshta Rit Premnath. More info here:

“Lack of clarity in philosophy is tormenting. It is felt as shameful. We feel: we do not know our way about where we should know our way about. And nevertheless it isn’t so. We can get along very well without… knowing our way about here.”

“…In any serious question uncertainty extends to the very roots of the problem.”

-from “Remarks on Colour,” Ludwig Wittgenstein

“On Certainty” includes a group show, a new issue of the magazine Shifter (co-edited by the participating artists), and a series of public dialogues with economists, neurologists, physicists and writers. The participants contemplate the notion of certainty and its sibling, uncertainty: How and why do we constitute a unified self from which to speak and construe meaning in this world? When we say, “I know…” with certainty, what do we mean?

The title of the show, lifted from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s posthumously published book, signals our attempt not only to investigate knowledge and factuality, but furthermore, to interrogate the statement “I saw it with my own eyes.” What is the position of the witness (who represents an event) and the authentic subject (who represents a group) in knowledge production?

The interdisciplinary programming of the lecture series reflects the curatorial desire to use the gallery as an intellectual commons. As Edward Said has said, specialization sometimes “means losing sight of the raw effort of constructing either art or knowledge,” and by opening up an interdisciplinary conversation we hope to investigate the “choices and decisions” that produce these knowledges, and their certainties.

Thom Donovan

John Keene

Stuart Krimko

Katy Lederer

Organized by: Christopher Stackhouse

The readings will take place at:

508 W 26th St 11C
New York NY 10001

This presentation is part of the project "On Certainty" curated by Sreshta Rit Premnath. More info here:

John Keene

John Keene is the author of the award-winning novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995), and of the poetry collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), with artwork by Christopher Stackhouse. He has published his fiction, poetry, essays and translations in a wide array of journals, including African-American Review, AGNI, Encyclopedia, Gay and Lesbian Review, Hambone, Indiana Review, Kenyon Review, New American Writing, and Ploughshares.
Stuart Krimko

Stuart Krimko is the author of Not That Light (2005) and The Sweetness Of Herbert (forthcoming), both published by Sand Paper Press, Key West. In 2005 he received a grant from The Fund for Poetry.
Katy Lederer

Katy Lederer is the author of the poetry collection, Winter Sex (Verse Press, 2002) and the memoir Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown, 2003), which Publishers Weekly included on its list of the Best Nonfiction Books of the Year and Esquire Magazine named one of its eight Best Books of the Year. Her second poetry book, The Heaven-Sent Leaf was published by BOA Editions in the fall of 2008.