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.