9 March 2015


'He disliked Lilina; probably because he suspected intuitively that she was a person who could fall over and over again into the same pile of broken glass and scream just as loudly the last time as the first.'
Jane Bowles, from 'A Guatemalan Idyll'

is sorrow sentimental?
is prolonged sorrow sentimental?
does prolonged sorrow become sentimental?
is it mawkish? or is it refined?
is it a great capacity or a dwindling light?
is it fierce loyalty or shabby fidelity?
is it forgetful or is it still raw?
is it stupidly timeless or wisely eternal?
is it a new feeling or the same bludgeoning, old one?
does it vary infinitely or is it toneless?
is it its infinite variety or its tonelessness that makes it claustrophobic?
and why is is sometimes expansive, ranging?
does it marble with nostalgia?
does it become delicious and tender? decadent and luxurious?
does it become a space?
does it become fodder for poets and politicians?
does it become comfortable and familiar?
does it become national?
does it make us?
what happens to mourning?
does it flatten over time?
does it spike occasionally when triggered?
or do we flatten ourselves around it?
is its topography predictable?
is it instrumentalised?
does it become the doctor’s ‘acceptance’?
is acceptance irresponsible?
does it console?
is consolation struggle’s dampener?
is loss inseparable from exclusion?
is to lose to be excluded?
does exclusion necessitate loss?
is this about rubble?
is this about lazarus?
is this about ghosts?
is this about miracles?
is this about waiting?
is this about patience?
is this about hope?
is this about masochism?
is this about narrative?
is this about making the most of it?
is this about what doesn’t kill you?
is this about the need for roots?
is this about the need for myths?
is this about getting through the day?
is this about getting through the night?
is this about getting through the week?
is this about feeling it all the way to the bottom?
is this about feeling it on the surface?
is this about rising?
is this about falling?
is this about armature?
is this against healing?
is this against forgetting?
is this against processing?
is this against understanding?
is this against a good night’s rest?   
is this against dreaming?
is this against telling yourself?
is this against telling others?
does each fresh distortion have its uses?
does each scar strip away character?
is this a secret, disobedient gift?

20 February 2015

Personism: A Manifesto // Frank O’Hara // 1959

Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can’t be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don’t believe in god, so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.”

That’s for the writing poems part. As for their reception, suppose you’re in love and somebody’s mistreating (mal aimé) you, you don’t say, “Hey, you can’t hurt me this way, I care!” you just let all the different bodies fall where they may, and they always do may after a few months. But that’s not why you fell in love in the first place, just to hang onto life, so you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.

I’m not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? They’re just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives.

But how then can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies. As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There’s nothing metaphysical about it. Unless, of course, you flatter yourself into thinking that what you’re experiencing is “yearning.”

Abstraction in poetry, which Allen [Ginsberg] recently commented on in It Is, is intriguing. I think it appears mostly in the minute particulars where decision is necessary. Abstraction (in poetry, not painting) involves personal removal by the poet. For instance, the decision involved in the choice between “the nostalgia of the infinite” and “the nostalgia for the infinite” defines an attitude towards degree of abstraction. The nostalgia of the infinite representing the greater degree of abstraction, removal, and negative capability (as in Keats and Mallarmé).

Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody knows about, interests me a great deal, being so totally opposed to this kind of abstract removal that it is verging on a true abstraction for the first time, really, in the history of poetry. Personism is to Wallace Stevens what la poési pure was to Béranger. Personism has nothing to do with philosophy, it’s all art. It does not have to do with personality or intimacy, far from it! But to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity, and sustaining the poet’s feelings towards the poem while preventing love from distracting him into feeling about the person. That’s part of Personism. It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it. While I have certain regrets, I am still glad I got there before Alain Robbe-Grillet did. Poetry being quicker and surer than prose, it is only just that poetry finish literature off. For a time people thought that Artaud was going to accomplish this, but actually, for all their magnificence, his polemical writings are not more outside literature than Bear Mountain is outside New York State. His relation is no more astounding than Dubuffet’s to painting.

What can we expect from Personism? (This is getting good, isn’t it?) Everything, but we won’t get it. It is too new, too vital a movement to promise anything. But it, like Africa, is on the way. The recent propagandists for technique on the one hand, and for content on the other, had better watch out.

31 January 2015

'How are you supposed to start a stanza with 'mule'?'

Zajal: When Competitive Poetry Was a Better Sport Than Soccer

'Basically one poet — and know that we all considered ourselves poets — would recite a stanza, usually loaded with couched or open insults against his opponent. The opponent would fire back with a stanza, flipping the insults back on the first person. Now here is the kicker: whenever someone responds, they must start with the last word of the stanza that was just thrown at them. What’s more: the response had to follow the same set meter and rhyme.'

More televised competitive poetry: Egyptian poet Hisham el-Gokh's 'An Honest View of Liberation Square' from 2011's round of 'Prince of Poets' (!).

4 January 2015

15 December 2014

Its edge, the horizon

We are not sure what they are doing to the block at the end of our street. Or, we are sure of what they are doing to the block at the end of our street but we are pretending not to be, to allow the possibility, which is really a hope, that we could be wrong.

And it is not really our street, we are staying with our friend, whose street it is not really, because this man could never own a street. Also, he is not really my friend, he is his, but he is fast becoming also mine - though it is not ownership in the same way a man can own a street.

They are taking out the old, so when we walk past we can see clear through the windows to the sky on the other side. They are filling it with new, so when, in future, we walk past, we'll see richer people than us living better lives that ours. Their cupboards and showers will be silent and stylish and their floors will be wooden. This is pattern recognition not prophecy.

It is not clear, though we suspect, and suspect we suspect rightly - which is to say we are somewhere beyond inklings and hunches but not quite at knowledge or proof - that the short flat pediments hovering beneath the long narrow windows aligned neatly on each floor, are not as we hope but do not admit we hope, shadings for the spaces below, little hoods for the windows underneath; but rather the bases of balconies which will be built upwards. It is precisely this space above what we hope are the hooded shadings through which a sliver of sea is visible. It is this space which will soon, we suspect, be filled with new balconies, meaning the sliver of sea visible from where I am sitting writing this, will be blocked in and the sea will be blocked out. We will see instead the scissoring of tanned legs and the flares of designer beach towels being snapped over the balconies. Our hearts start to feel metallic in preparation. They think of the word 'wrought'*.

From where I am sitting writing this I can see a temptingly sketchable network of lines. Closest are the feint grey horizontals of my notebook stretching to the edges of the page which rests on a fake bamboo mat comprised of narrow yellow sticks (an approximation of naturalness) bound together by thread. The mat is a little too big to sit within the confines of the black, glass-toped table so writing on it is uncomfortable and almost impossible unless I tuck one of the mat's long sides against the edge of the table and leave the other side sticking out and over, and tuck my notebook on top, using it to hold the mat in place. Removing the mat and simply using the table top to write on is not an option since the table top is filthy and cleaning is not an option today. I tuck my notebook on top and continue.

Lifting my eyes I see the grey wooden slatted horizontals of the base of the chair opposite which has vertical slats of the same kind for its back. It is a new chair and it was a bargain. I am sitting on one just like it. Two for €10. Unheard of. The grey grew on us and now looks bluer on account of the blue sky all around it, and on account of a general bittersweet optimism brought on by peach skin and equivocal yearning. The chair opposite touches the vertical black metal railings** of the balcony.

Behind this begins an exciting web of diagonals that comprise the washing line, echoing exactly the telephone wires slicing neatly through the suburban sky we will admire upon returning home, and that I have admired before in a room full of people refreshed by psilocybin. Our clothes hang with vertical surity from the equally vertical clothes pegs. Every time we hang our clothes we clutch them with extra consciousness and vigour, not looking down, not imagining their spectacular and irritating flight to the ground floor should we drop them, should they slip from our hands, greasy from good snacks, drunken and distracted by the fact of the little sliver of sea we do not want to take our eyes off.

The neighbouring balcony has a sheet metal roof supported by black metal L shapes whose verticals and horizontals are interrupted by a wild spray of flowering and not flowering plants, nobly reaching beyond their confines and out into the world. A little spark of envy ignites in me, they are capable of some motion I cannot access. One plant is heavy with drooping pale green phallic heads, another is replete with flowers of bright red, their papery petals swaying but unbending in the occasional breeze. What did the neighbour think when she was purchasing these plants? Was she drawn to them because of their sexual parts? Or did she plant them from seeds only to find them pornographic on her balcony years later? It is nothing new to think of sex when you look at flowers of a certain type.*** You can make a whole career of it.

On the other side of the street a regular facade of balconies and windows, flowered, not flowered, peopled, unpeopled, with or without laundry, plants, surfboards, tourists, chairs. It is between this building and ours that the sliver of glittering blue sea is visible. Everything depends upon this sliver of glittering blue sea. Its edge, the horizon, comes up just above the top of potential balconies. If they build balconies here, which we suspect they will, or are, the sliver, or the visibility of the sliver, will be compromised. The palm frond before it takes up quite a lot of space. Perhaps, we fantasise, we could talk to the city about cutting it back? We could say, don't you see, everything depends upon the thin sliver of glittering blue sea. Probably they would laugh at us, and we would laugh at us, and our dictionaries would fail us, or us them. We would also laugh at ourselves for our depending so upon this sliver of glittering blue sea.

The balconies won't be up before I go. But they will be by the time I return.

It is not of note that there will be another place where the sea is not visible from.

* produced or shaped by beating with a hammer. The origin of the word is Middle English, 1200-50, wroght, a metathetic variant of worht, the past participle of worchen: to work.

** At a party, J, lucid with amphetamines, told us how, upon the loss of her husband, Queen Victoria ordered all the railings in London to be painted black as an expression of her grand and expensive mourning. Whether this is rumour or fact, the image is powerful enough to imbue the city in a centuries long state of shared nebulous sorrow, unnecessary seriousness and continued resentment of the monarchy.

*** The first time my first boyfriend visited my mother's house he brought with him a pretty little pot plant, flowering in a brain-like network of velvety dark pink wriggles, folds and enclosures.