Saturday, December 12, 2009

Alan Bernheimer SEGUE series introduction

Social histories of poets has always been an interest of mine. Whether Alan Bernheimer is a 3rd generation New York School poet or a 1st generation Language Writer does not matter so much as the fact that Bernheimer is writing and publishing poems again—after a hiatus of nearly a decade—and that these poems are available for our delectation.

Delectation is not a glib critical phrase in the way I’m using it here because Bernheimer’s poetry is all about enjoyment. It is also about an adventure of the mind tuning the senses, exchanging them, inverting them, desynching them—reversing the roles, making them haywire. Synaesthesia rules in Bernheimer’s work, and perhaps that is why he can be easily confused with a New York School poet. Psychadelia is of the hour, it is of practically every line. Sense always negotiating nonsense, and nonsense ideation. His company is Larry Fagin, and Bill Berkson, and Ted Greenwald swerving from the radical cultural movements of the 60s, forward looking at the deconstructions of “a political economy of the sign” in the 70s and 80s.

What Bernheimer shares with Language Writing is a sense of language as a proposition about sense, and how sense-making determines the socio-political. Underpinning each of Bernheimer’s lines is a pun, or, when there is not a pun, a sense of surprise or defiance of expectation that one did not appear. Among my contemporaries there has been a lot of use of the pun towards a political poetry in the last decade or so. I am thinking here of Gregg Biglieri, David Buuck, Louis Cabri, Craig Dworkin, Judith Goldman, Jennifer Scappettone, and Kyle Schlesinger among others—Schlesinger in particular, whose poetry resembles Bernheimer’s own perhaps more than any one else. As I have argued of Schlesinger’s work, and I will say the same of Bernheimer’s: to challenge sense via the pun is always political; it is what undergirds a politics of language insofar as it challenges language’s tendency to become instrumental and representative. Something that stands in for direct action, participation, expression, thinking.

Like Kit Robinson’s work, or Bob Perelman’s, or Lyn Hejinian’s, or Charles Bernstein’s, with Bernheimer there is also a sense that ideas are always affective, and that words—as an abstraction of the real, and as envelopes of the mind—were always bound to our emotional complexes. There is a warmth that radiates from Bernheimer’s work that I associate with the aforementioned writers, though Bernheimer’s political commitments are perhaps a bit more elliptical, his theoretical references a bit less theory laden, his attempt to dissolve the referent in wild significations less performed, more breezy.

I like the term breezy because it underscores an ease or facility of speaking/writing, a kind of grace. What if you could turn le mot juste to all the purposes of language doing philosophy, or simply scoring our least plausible thoughts and sensations? What would any of this prove except that in what we write inheres an incredible potential for language to express non-experience and subtle sensation, to make us dream the actual, to put the real back into what was supposed dream?

Through a logic of language games poetry in the 70s and 80s was able to achieve a distinctly American kind of surrealism—a surrealism beyond the logic of symbols, or the phenomenology of a subconscious; a surrealism of what words can do unleashed from master discourses—of performance, and speech act, and grammatology. With Bernheimer’s recent 'new and selected'—The Spoonlight Institute—we are transported to the beginning again. Of an actual dreaminess that is our everyday having to live with words.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Review of Parades and Changes Replay in The Brooklyn Rail

Here is a review I wrote of Anna Halprin's, Anne Collod's, and Morton Subotnik's Parades and Changes Replay.

"When art historians eventually look back on the aughts, I think it will be said that the predominant art form of this decade was the reenactment, works that “replay” or “redo” previous works of art or cultural texts. RoseLee Golberg’s Performa biennial, which began in 2005 and in 2009 seems largely established (if not fully armed) as a cultural institution, has been a major force in establishing the reenactment as one of today’s most relevant and important art forms.

While the reenactment can have many uses, one of the primary ways it’s been used is to revivify events that would seem lost to the present, and to root these events firmly in materials from the past—documents, artifacts, relics, and the memories of surviving artists and participants. Attending choreographer Anne Collod’s replay of Anna Halprin’s 1965 collaboration with Morton Subotnick, Parades and Changes, I was aware of a work from the past being reconstructed for our present."

Audio from Emergency Series at Penn

Here is audio from a reading I gave a couple weeks back with Julian Brolaski at Penn's Kelly Writers House. The reading is followed by a conversation in which Julian and I discuss our work in relation to community discourse, "New Brutalism," "composition by breath," biopolitics, and intertextuality.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review of Paul Chan at Fanzine

My review of Paul Chan's Greene Naftali show, "Sade for Sade's sake," is now up up at Fanzine.

"Chan's tarrying with the negative also comes across in a series of poems he wrote from 2005 through 2009, Texts, in which many of the words of the poem are crossed out. These "erasures" (the popular term for poetic texts produced by the crossing-out of words) form interesting language effects. Reading the poems for a first time, the words that are crossed-out stand out. Reading them a second time, I read them without the cross-outs. The meaning differs radically depending on whether you read the poem with or without the cross-outs; the first reading yielding a wildly aphoristic poetry, the lines of the poem wending and cutting-off like a poem by Emily Dickinson or Robert Creeley, the second reading yielding something more bare. In the second reading you get something radically reduced, yet equally pithy and contradictory—like a koan or revolutionary slogan from May ‘68. These poems I read beside much of my favorite lyrical poems being written today for the ways that they foreground dialectic tension, and negotiate a theoretical lingo with common speech."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

SEGUE series presents Alan Bernheimer and Danny Snelson

Saturday, December 12, 2009
4:00pm - 6:00pm
The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery
New York, NY

Alan Bernheimer’s Spoonlight Institute was published this fall by Adventures in Poetry. Earlier books include Billionesque and CafĂ© Isotope.

Danny Snelson is a writer, editor, and archivist recently relocated to Philadelphia. He is the founder of Aphasic Letters (with Phoebe Springstubb) and No Input Books (with James Hoff). Recent writing projects include Endless Nameless, Equi Nox, and Radios.

Monday, December 07, 2009

David Buuck's "Exercises in Seeing"

"Audio guide for one night only exhibition 'Exercises in Seeing' at Queen's Nails Projects in San Francisco, held entirely in the dark. The guide to the works in the show was written by poet/artist David Buuck, without having seen any of the artworks. The exhibition was curated by Post Brothers." [...]

from "None of us have rules, none of us have scripture": CA Conrad’s Advanced Elvis Course and the Politics of Spirit

I have been trying to write an essay on CA Conrad's poetics via his recent Soft Skull book, Advanced Elvis Course. Here is a selection from the essay destined for publication in Paolo Javier's 2nd Avenue Poetry:

"Conrad’s work puts forth a genealogy of morals in the spirit of Spinoza’s ethics and Nietzsche’s evaluative philosophy. This genealogy, like Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s, radically calls into question the relationship between morality and law. Elvis, like a certain Jesus of recent liberation theologies, is that which permits, and he whose only law is love. Not “love thy neighbor” or “turn the other cheek,” but love for the body as that which grounds a just and reasonable society—Spinoza’s socius or Nitezsche’s active affects which overcome that which is resentful, disaggregating, and reactionary. One overcomes (or over-cums) because they are bursting with love for multitudes. As in Melville’s homoerotic law of sea articulated in “The Squeezing of the Sperm” chapter of Moby Dick, singularities “splice” singularities—affect-to-affect, man-to-man. Material bodies are plastic/synthetic; all flesh is just flesh as though related by a blank before or beyond social discursion. Melville makes an appearance in Advanced Elvis Course through reference to a concert Elvis gave in which he shouted the words “Moby Dick” during the break between “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Conrad reads this eruption as having to do with American barbarism: “Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.” (43) Yet Advanced Elvis Course, like Moby Dick, takes one figure as its central fact, and from this figure spins an allegorical compendium of socio-political consequence. Elvis, like the Whale, is in all of us. One becomes paranoid to seeing Him everywhere the more one looks."

Corina Copp: SEGUE introduction

I have a strong impression of first hearing Corina Copp read her work. It was at the bar on 11th Street between Avenues A and B in the spring of 2006. What left a strong impression was a sense that her language was doing something—that it was having an effect on me—and yet I could not tell where it was coming from, what was holding it down so too speak. The language was like pure performance—a gestural language seeking a referent.

Or seeking characters? Four years later Copp now pursues an MFA in play writing at Brooklyn College, studying under the play write Mac Wellman. Reading her plays “Office Killer” and “Manon Maria Braun,” I am struck by how suited her playful language work is to the theater, and specifically a theater that prioritizes action and gesture over plot or character development per se. Characters are ciphers for what can or cannot be said. Fairly routine dialogue will suddenly kick into language acrobatics. I like this about Copp’s plays. I like the sense that a language for the theater becomes possible again. Conditions of possibility lurk in the leveling of character and dialogue through gestural lyric. The problem goes back to Stein, and continues in Copp’s other mentor, Fiona Templeton, whose recent "Medead" (or “me dead” as I prefer to call it)—a phonemic based representation of the intercultural figure of Medea—resembles Copp’s own concerns with sonic, rhythmic, and metonymic language values.

There is content of course to Copp’s work. And it has to do with being a woman, and the violence that is enacted against women. It also has to do with sex, and identity and many other recurrent concerns of any theater. These concerns, evoked through schizophrenic speech, evoke what Copp calls a “deep threat” in an essay she has written about Poets Theater and Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater for the 2nd issue of ON Contemporary Practice:

“What’s incredible is that Poets Theater is a threat to order, and that entities are threats to equilibrium. Threat is deep; even multiplicity is still threatening. Polyvocal pieces are more and more prevalent among poets and play writes, hinting at our effort to equalize (provoking discomfort with lack of distinction), create cacophonies of sound, resist traditional structural modes, etc. What follows from an effort to equalize is the dissolving of individual character traits. In much current writing, for instance, characters A, B, and C might variantly have nervous legs, low IQs, or violet auras or not—but often they are types who witness strangeness in a place (the theater) meant to show something.”

I like this phenomenological description of what Poets Theater might contribute to theater at large. A leveling of hierachies between the essential elements of theater, which are obviously not just plot, setting, character, and psychological motivation, but language as a form of action and the expression of embodied affect among interchangeable bodies—the chain of substitution of post-industrial serialization comprised by “types.” Theater then becomes, as Copp tells us, more like an equilibrium of forces. By writing poems as plays or plays as poems (I can’t which) Copp is channeling the forces which inhere in language and make up our lives.