Friday, January 28, 2011


CAConrad and I will be debuting our chapbook together this weekend in Philly, Arthur Echo, dedicated to the late cellist/songwriter Arthur Russell, published by Robert Dewhurst's Scary Topiary Press. More details here and here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Introduction for Norma Cole (SEGUE)

There is a force and breadth to Bay-area based poet Norma Cole’s work that it is the daunting task of an introducer to address in a short amount of space. She has many books including—among my favorites—Moira, Contrafact, Spinoza in her Youth, and Scout. She is also the author of a selected poems published by City Lights in 2009, which spans her career from 1988-2008, Where Shadows Will.

Reading Cole’s To Be at Music this past week, a book ostensibly of her criticism, it strikes me that to call this work criticism does it an injustice, if not some violence. The texts collected in this book are rare in their ability to seamlessly move among poetic utterance and critical insights, supported by a tissue of quotations as well as an extensive bibliography. I love this quality of the work, which I sense many of us would emulate if we could pull it off. One enters any given text in the middle of the action, in a veritable whirlwind of ideas, propositions, perceptions, much as one enters one of Cole’s poems. But just as quickly there is something that anchors one within the whirlwind, not least of which are Cole’s senses of literary history, her ear as a translator who begins many of her readings through polylingual cross reference, and a sense of love and appreciation that is consistently directed at her subjects, who more often than not consist of her friends, mentors, and writers to whom she has apprenticed herself.

Something I have long felt, and acknowledged, is that the poet chooses to critique or simply write in critical prose about subjects which are near to their own problems as poets. This seems so obvious, but is it? I often have this sense reading the quotations woven throughout Cole’s To Be At Music. And I often wonder what is quotation, and what is Cole engaged in a kind of Midrashic dialogue with her sources. The effect of this citational confusion reaches a sublime pitch in Cole’s essay for Robin Blaser, “A Minimum of Matter,” a poet whose commitments to translation, critical theory, and revolutions in the public sphere mirror Cole’s own....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Others Letters :: Stephen Collis to Garry Morse

The latest Others Letters post features "open-letter" poetry by Stephen Collis, addressed to Garry Morse.

I have been writing various “letter-poems” for quite some time now—perhaps first striking off from Olson’s “letters” in Maximus (some of which were actually mailed to people—Ferrini, for instance). In what I call “The Barricades Project,” there are the “Dear Common” poems—addressed to everyone and no-one—as well as other letter poems, with various addressees (living and dead). I have also found the form useful for political agitation (would a corporation charge an open-letter poem with libel? We’ll see).

In early 2010, Vancouver poet and novelist Garry Morse and I started a correspondence when both our books were coming out that spring with Talon (Garry’s After Jack and my On the Material). Garry’s side of the correspondence was mostly in prose, and embedded in e-mails with other discussions intervening. He was also a lot more prolific than I was (!), so it’s hard to track what letter/poem responds to what. At first we were responding to each other’s manuscripts, but increasingly, we were responding to the building responses themselves. In the excerpts here I both comment on Garry’s work (often picking up and playing with language from After Jack) and respond to questions he was raising about my own practice. If there is an “ars poetica” buried in here, it is written in “Morse code.”
—Stephen Collis

Monday, January 24, 2011

The public words will show it, I hope
The dark-side of our being
In common the side of light –
Letters, sparks one does not control

Those forces of ghosts, chora or life
On the bottom, potentia in which difference
Lay between them – letters, sparks
That are not translatable like knowing

Is transported, like skin across con-
tinents, what must be defended –
combatant friend – made us what
We are – words are only the shade of

Given to these feints ways they fuck
Our shit up, ways we fuck up
Their shit, like skin color or religion
Indwells each attempt to kill

The neighbor like I wasn’t an other –
Like you weren’t me – stomping above
My coffin, which is the self alone –
The couple enclosed by four walls

Instead of a commons – that is what
We mean when we speak of language
As a means of death, or death by design –
Represented by church and state

Codified emblems of who we is,
A community without the there is –
Community as a form of alibi
Wherever the names stick.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Questions (for Contemporary Practice) with Rigo 23 (@ Art21)

I am pleased to announce that my 5 Questions column with the Bay Area-based artist, Rigo 23, is currently online at Art21 blog.

Two other current projects, which Rigo 23 touches upon below, involve what I see as two fundamental intentions of his work. First, the ability to make art out of conditions that respect local values and traditions, as well as community structures which transcend the “individual.” Second, that the art may both historicize and create conditions of possibility by which social justice can come into being.

The first intention is embodied fully by a project Rigo 23 has been making in Madeira Island, Portugal, where he is originally from, which involves the making of a statue to commemorate a dispute between the local community and the Catholic Church of Portugal (This the People Will Never Forget). In this project, the artist erects a statue of the Virgin as seen from the back of a pick-up truck, commemorating the fact that locals were slighted by the Church authority by not being able to host the statue, and were treated instead to a passing glance of the statue’s backside upon the truck’s flatbed. Rigo 23 also foregrounds the community’s sense of injustice by employing local embroiderers to embroider all the signatures from a petition to the Church upon strips of raw linen —an act which, as the artist tells us below, also reflects the conditions under which the embroiders labor.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Slope 47 (poem and essay)


guest edited by AMBER NELSON

Featuring new work by:

Richard Meier
Kate Greenstreet
Brandon Downing
Sarah Maclay
Carrie Olivia Adams
Jordan Stempleman
Nate Slawson
Rob Schlegel
Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Francesco Levato
Lindsay Foster
Tyler Flynn Dorholt
Isaac Sullivan
Jeff T. Johnson
Tom Konyves
Nicolas Born (tr Eric Torgersen)
Jodi Chilson
Joshua Young
Jane Joritz-Nakagawa
Emily Carlson
Virginie Lalucq and Jean-Luc Nancy (trs Cynthia Hogue and Sylvain Gallais)
Thom Donovan

Sunday, January 16, 2011


--after Renee Gladman

That little limit
Of the distance
Between ourselves

And the world,
Ourselves and event
Witnessing the haptic

Sense of the hand
Touching you,
The nipple tugged

And toggled
Beside one’s self.

That’s what living’s called
Deworlded by everyday dreaming

Busses loop this place
We would be, this city

That might identify the body
If it were here

Or the crowd
Would not disperse.

If we were anywhere
In this present and
Not dying from death

Which is different than
Actually having lived,
But not so different than
Writing –

A form of living with
Death inside a present
The words one writes
Withdraw us from.

Like a camera
Swoops in - it
Swoons and we
Are not unlike
It - gliding in
A sense of one’s
Own appearing
Among others.

Where we meet
Where the body
Touches other

Like a world was

Come to your senses
Come up from air, for air
From all this mumbo jumbo

The distribution of the senses
We are living in a grammar
Of commons, the most beautiful

Myth while actually not being
In common most of the time
The body breaks-up space

Does not grasp it, reassembles
The surround called sunshine
Already lapsed to an idea

Of me or you heat involves
The light from this incident
The forethought of our lives

In this event, not on the inside
Are you beautiful to me
For all time, but being

Inside-out and twisted
Like a territory we experience
In real time while observing

What we are when we are
Not writing, social substance like
A tracking shot makes 'me' area

And moment and movement
--a type of twice dying one
Experiences before their death.

Introduction for Renee Gladman (SEGUE series)

Recall Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. In one early scene of the film when the three men are exploring that seemingly supernatural territory called “the zone” the camera tracks through an open field, then through the window of an abandoned car, until finally the stalker and his two companions pass in front of it. One perceives the shot to be subjective—from the point of view of one of the men. Then who’s perspective is it really?

Renee Gladman, whose 2007 book Newcomer Can’t Swim includes a poem called “Zone” written after the film by Tarkovsky, puts her readers in a position similar to Tarkovsky’s audience with regards to narrative chronology, space, and point of view. And Gladman’s writing is indeed a kind of zone—labyrinthine, looping (“circling” as she refrains throughout all of her books), evental. Where one makes it ‘through’ (as it were) only to not quite know how they got there. (As the narrator of “Untitled Colorado” says, “What happened back there?,” to which her lover replies, “Could have been anything.”)

In the narrative spaces of Gladman’s work one feels one’s self constantly at a horizon of events, jumbled by the dense gravity not of a black hole, but of our own social relations. In Gladman’s 2003 book, The Activist, the map of the activists “mutates” just before they are to deploy their plan. In the second text of Newcomer Can't Swim, the narrator searches for her destination—a hotel where a lover lives—constructing a kind of cognitive map through things she remembers the lover saying about her neighborhood. Cities are not just cities, nor a home simply a residence—but prostheses which extend and point back to ourselves, demarcating boundaries, time-sense, communal thresholds.

Underlying much of the content of Gladman’s texts is a unique sense of skepticism about one’s ability to be in common. This skepticism is a singular one, irreducible to a commentary about “identity.” Through it, Gladman discovers the “subject” in the breakdown of things—and principally of communication itself. But also, particularly in Newcomer Can't Swim, of a body. Throughout the book, Gladman alludes to an accident scene. Her character is lying on the ground, waiting for paramedics to arrive. Yet, as a result of the accident the narrator discovers where it stands in relation to others—lovers, strangers, the French EMT whose English begins to falter at the chaotic accident scene.

What I guess I am trying to say, is that Gladman—through the language forms which she develops in each one of her books—is finding a way to locate the self deictically, in negative; at the various points where a self would seem to be absent, whether negated by physical pain, or exile, or some more obscure, but equally profound, unworlding. In the misunderstandings, the misperceptions, the botched schemes, Gladman defines who her characters ‘really are’ within a set of social relationships.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Appropriations: 1915-present (syllabus)

Here is a paragraph from the course description of the class I am teaching at School of Visual Arts this spring, regarding "appropriation" techniques in 20th and 21st century writing, as well as a sequence of texts that will be covered in the course.

The term “appropriation” is a loaded one, in visual art, cultural studies, and anthropology, and I will go over the various valences of this term in class as much as I can. In terms of this course, by appropriation I mean any technique by which particular texts are incorporated into a new text, thus becoming the property of a separate work. Collage is appropriative; so, arguably, are certain quotational and citational practices. Appropriational writing also concerns the use of texts without attribution, and so brings up questions of property, plagiarism, and identity (who is the ‘speaker’, ‘author’, or writer?; to what extent is this entity a construction of a distribution network or institutional complex?). Appropriation also involves what we may call “recontextualization”; the taking of something from one context and removing it to another, of which there are countless examples in this course. With the removal of a text to a different context, the meaning of that text changes—it is thus transformed both in 'form' and 'content'.

I. Documentary Poetries

1-13. Introductions;

1-20. Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” (;

1-27. William Carlos Williams’s Patterson excerpts with Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred;

2-3. Muriel Rukeyser’s "The Book of the Dead" with Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony excerpts, supplemented by Michael Davidson’s Ghostlier Demarcations excerpt;

2-10. Louis Zukofsky’s “A-8” with Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems excerpts, supplemented by “Z-cite” guide to Louis Zukofsky’s “A-8” (

Contemporary examples of “documentary poetries”: Chain journal vol. 2: Documentary; M. NourbeSe Phillip's Zong!; C.S. Giscombe’s Giscombe Road; Juliana Spahr’s Fuck You, Aloha, I Love You; Evelyn Reilly’s Styrofoam; Alan Gilbert’s Another Future; Mark Nowak’s Revenants and Coal Mountain Elementary; Vanessa Place’s Statement of Facts; David Buuck’s Buried Treasure Island; Craig Santos Perez's From Unincorporated Territory.

II. “Shock Effects,” Collage Aesthetics, and Socio-historical Re/mediation
2-17. Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction” ( with Dada gallery (;

2-24. John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath excerpt with Bruce Andrews’s I Don’t Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) excerpt, supplemented by Andrews on collage and noise in Paradise and Method and links to Andrews performing his work at PennSound (

3-3. Susan Howe’s "A Bibliography of the King's Book;
or, Eikon Basilike" and Rachel Tzvia Back’s Led by Language excerpt;

Additional texts: Flarf feature at Jacket (; Craig Dworkin’s Reading the Illegible (chapter on Howe, “Waging Political Babble”)

III. The Politics of Re/Appropriation

3-10. Guy Debord’s “Methods of Détournement” ( and art after Situationism;

3-17. BREAK

3-24. Hannah Weiner’s “Radcliffe and Guatemala Women,” Judith Goldman’s Deathstar/Rico-chet, and Martha Rosler’s “reading” performance video for Paper Tiger Television, Martha Rosler Reads Vogue (;

4-7. President of the United Heart’s The Big Melt with Rachel Zolf’s Neighbour Procedure;

Additional texts: Eliot Weinberger’s What Happened Here?; Jules Boykoff’s and Kaia Sand’s Landscapes of Dissent; Kim Rosenfield’s Re: Evolution; Yedda Morrison’s Darkness; Mónica de la Torre’s Public Domain; M. Mara Anne’s Containment Scenario; Laura Elrick’s Stalk; Dada “in context”: (éhar.pdf)

IV. What is an Author? The politics of identity and distributed authorship

4-14. Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author?” ( and “Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” (;

4-21. Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations excerpt with Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups;

4-28. Robert Fitterman’s Rob the Plagiarist excerpt with Tyrone Williams's c.c. excerpt;

5-5. Stephen Collis’s The Commons and “Of Blackberries and the Poetic Commons” ( with Tan Lin’s Heath and EDIT event;

Additional texts: Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy; Charles Bernstein’s All the Whiskey in Heaven; Laura Moriarty’s A Tonalist; Ben Friedlander’s Simulcast; Brandon Brown’s The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus; The Grand Piano (Barrett Watten, et al).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Others Letters :: Pat Clifford and Aryanil Mukherjee

Pat Clifford and Aryanil Mukherjee discuss the translation of "objectivist" into Bengali at Others Letters:

How would you explain the word "objectivist"? It is object-oriented or goal-oriented or both? Pound wrote in 1913, "the natural object is always the adequate symbol". Now, that's how all of modernistic poetry was written - making metaphors of natural objects. What is Pound trying to say here, you think?

"bastu" is object. "laxya" is goal or object, for example when you say, "the objective of this experiment is...", the Bengali translation would be "ei pareexaar laxya halo....". So I used the word "laxyabastu" which literally means "target" but captures the twin-fold meaning of "object". What do you think of it ?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Introduction to Mac Wellman (@ SEGUE)

Mac Wellman is a play write, poet, and fiction writer, yet transcends all of these traditional literary categories. His books are many and include the most recent The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. Wellman is a loved figure in the NYC performance community, and especially loved by his MFA students at Brooklyn College where he is a professor.

I have always had an aversion to theater. And maybe my own aversion to theater is similar to the one Mac Wellman has described for himself, though he is considered to be one of the foremost American play writes writing and producing plays today. For what Wellman sites as the dominant theater of our day entertains a situation of what he calls the “already known.” When we go to a play—and this is perhaps what is disappointing about theater—whatever twists and turns the plot takes there remains the problem of plot itself, known more or less in advance of the journey, known in advance of actually attending the theater as an act of mind—a transient and momentary thing. What is disappointing to Mac Wellman about theater as it has typically been conceived through Aristotlean drama, is that while it may stage sentiment it does not allow for acts of mindfulness, awareness, thought, attention, meditation, inner vision. What is the solution to this sorry state of theater, reduced to a few key players, if not a kind of decadent moralism Wellman attributes to the British group around Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane?

As Karinne Keithley Syers shows us in a recent article about Wellman’s work published in the latest issue of Postmodern Culture devoted to “poets theater,” “This Theater is a Strange Hole: Mac Wellman's Poetics of Apparence,” one possible solution is to make holes in the structure of plays; to thus make holey (h-o-l-e-y), but also in some sense holy, which is to say devoted. Taking up a mathematics of holes, Syers shows us to what extent Wellman’s work is structured through a set of precise absences which create intense feelings for the missing and intentionally left-out. The play, as it were, becomes a thing in a thing it is not. Through the absences and structural displacements of Wellman’s work—both at the level of the line, and at the macro level of the larger play, story, or poem—he gives us space to fill-in and fill-out—to become the hole as it were, to produce a wholeness without totality (that always leaves room to grow, wiggle room, cognitive space). And, following the phenomenology of Gertrude Stein whose work is partially a study of audience—the way audiences think, listen, observe, attend—Wellman realizes that the missing component of any dramatic situation—what he calls both acts of “apperception” and “apparence”—is in fact us. Someone who may theophanically fulfill the writer’s intention without exhausting it. Such curiosity about the life of the mind—wanting to demarcate or show how the mind works heuristically, through a dramatic-poetic process—is a wonderful thing to participate in and witness, and something that I wish more theater were capable of.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Jane Sprague's Imaginary Syllabi

Imaginary Syllabi
Palm Press, 2011
Edited and published by Jane Sprague

Cover design and layout by Keren Cohen

A book-length project of contributions by multiple authors that aims to collect writings which investigate, uncover, examine, complicate, question, spoof, spark, incite, meditate, mediate, mix, sample, nettle, navigate, question, provoke, and otherwise (essentially) challenge pedagogical strategies pursuant to the work of teaching writing and other disciplines. This book includes writings which dream up, concoct and explore utopian, fabulist, fantasy syllabi for potential imagined or real classroom endeavors: Educational projects undertaken and employed (deployed) in and outside of official as well as mongrel “schools.” Official spaces might harbor (or cultivate) the mongrel & vice versa.


• Sample syllabi that have been implemented or might/could be implemented AND the opposite of this condition: wholly fantastical stuff more suited to investigations in outer space and other sociocultural vacuums.

• Syllabi composed entirely of images or text or some combination of both. Syllabi may be scattered or comprehensive lists of pertinent, esoteric, weird or terribly useful URLs.

• Documents from classroom practices that were successful, compelling, disturbing etc. and which their authors wish to share, distribute, make known.

• Essays/Syllabi that mention other teachers and communities of teachers &/or documents, critiques, etc. &/or explore and extend the work of other teachers and communities of teachers, theorists, scholars, activists, revolutionaries, radicals, & intellectual insurgents.... There is no intended fixed, predetermined or official meaning attached in this CFW to the word “teacher”; “A thing which shows or points something out…”; teachers are sometimes not necessarily human organisms.

• Writings that disclose, assay, weigh the idea of the “syllabus” itself.

• Unimagined documents for unimagined learners among whom we could also group teachers / professors / instructors / mentors / advisors / and so on.


The intent of this project is to spur and develop a sense of critical inquiry, partnership, collaboration, critique and rebellion that the final book object also aims to cultivate among and within its readers.


Danielle Adair
Piotr Adamczyk
Stan Apps
Cara Benson
Thom Donovan
Jim Duignan
Rob Halpern
Kevin Hamilton
Paul Hoover
Adam Katz
Dorothea Lasky
John Lennon
M. Simon Levin
Dana Teen Lomax
Kelly Marie Martin
Erin McNellis
Miranda Mellis
Rich Murphy
Laurie Long
Jennifer Nellis
Holly Painter
Erik Pedersen
Mirielle Perron
Kristin Prevallet
Elizabeth Robinson
Chris Stroffolino
Sam Truitt
Andrew Zawacki

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

"On Reviewing" (@ Lemon Hound)

Sina Queyras of Lemon Hound asked me to respond to her questionnaire about reviewing, which I gladly did:

LH: Is there a quality you are looking for in a review that you haven’t found?

TD: I think it is less that there is a quality in reviews that I haven’t found, and more a sense that the review, as a form of criticism, should whither. In fact, what I really want more of are forms of literature that enfold their critical reception, and especially their reception as it is inflected through community, friendship, and civic responsibility. What if the poetry book included the review (the blurb is an unsubtle device gesturing at this)? What if the book disappeared into its reception and distribution as, for instance, Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies seems to do in some ways. What if, in other words, the work itself started to constitute an act of meta-discourse that intends to present its role in exchange, community, correspondence, reception, distribution, and its complicity in all of these events. What if distributed authorship (or choral modes of criticism—a term I have been using recently to describe a recent trend within contemporary poetry) made the perceived object disappear, dissolved in a network of others, in becoming, in archive and collective performance and the desire for emergent modes and models of subjectivity? Perhaps, for many of us, that is what the poem already is. Though there is nothing announcing this formal quality through its context within a book, magazine, or wherever else the poem may be encountered. The problem I’m identifying involves a crisis of the media itself, which continues to ‘implode’ in relation to the US’s current oligarchic political system, but perhaps also points to the unsustainability of anything which does not acknowledge its connectivity through higher forms of organization, systematicity, and corporatization.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

BOMB Interview with Adam Pendleton PDF

Here is a link to a PDF of the interview I conducted with Adam Pendleton for the recent winter issue of BOMB.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Pod People—for Leslie Scalapino

Thinking, Leslie, of your favorite movie—Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I have often revisited this film, Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s original, wondering why it was your favorite movie. The film begins with these gauzy, cotton objects drifting in outer space (the pods!). They are making their way to planet Earth—San Francisco to be specific. There they will undertake their ‘invasion’ by releasing a substance into the atmosphere. A substance humans/citizens will take into their lungs while they sleep, mind-altering like a psychotropic drug redolent with late-60s utopian longing. This film, released in ’78, looks forward and backwards. Backwards at the socio-political struggles of the 70s, of which I consider you a part—and the environmental movement in particular (in the film the would-be protagonists, Donald Sutherland and Brook Adams, work for the EPA). Forwards to a particularly dystopian decade, the decade in which I grew-up replete with Reaganomics, late-Cold War imperialism, culture war, and the replacement of erstwhile public servants and citizens with ‘pod people’—people seemingly soulless; an exaggerated version of the people our public institutions and policies would often seem to want us to be. The backdrop to all of this, like in the Dirty Harry movies also set in San Francisco, are these residues of social progress and struggle, forces represented by the counter-cultural non-conformism of Jeff Goldblum’s character; the flakey pop-psychology of Leonard Nimoy; and the subtle, yet inevitable, romance of Sutherland and Adams. Like the pods of Invasion of the Body Snatchers something threatens our humanity essentially. Only this force, mediated by the film, is not from outer space, or even really from outside us. And it is this fact to which your own work bears witness, phenomenalizing it through a syntax which gives form to the primal rupture between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’—where ‘person’ begins and socius ends; where interiority becomes radicalized by an external pressure of events, if not an empathy which overwhelms any account of individuality without exteriority (the need for friends, compatriots, lovers, neighbors, countrymen; the encounter with those inexplicably and mundanely ‘other’). What I am saying—something I would like to say, rather—is that conspiracy infuses your work, rendering it potent. A conspiracy, on the one hand, which threatens the social frameworks and communities through which ‘we’ have no choice but to exist. And a conspiracy, on the other, of knowledge that any interior is hopelessly dependent on the irrevocable connection of all beings, a fact underlying your particular brand of Buddhism, and your commitment to Gertrude Stein’s experimentalism, and a landscape exceeding in its reality any visual or aural description one can make of it. The pods, and the pod people, and the network—the original ‘social network’ called city—partaking of ‘us’. Dear Leslie, who invented an uncompromising grammar—a daring language practice—to embody our ceaseless correlation and conflict.