Friday, September 28, 2012

Ongoing notes: late September, 2012

Everyone should keep mailing me books for possible review. Chapbooks, especially. Why do I keep having to beg Canadian presses for chapbooks?

And can you  believe I'm actually getting married tomorrow...?

Philadelphia PA: In a beautiful hand-sewn edition of one hundred and twenty numbered copies is Jennifer Bartlett’s Anything has to be easy enough to get done (Albion Books, 2012), a short essay on the American poet Larry Eigner.

Writing a biography is like putting a puzzle together—or, as Pee Wee Herman says, “Certain questions get answered. Others spring up. It’s like unraveling a big cable knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting…” To give ten years to something is a daunting task, and yet people do it all the time—to jobs, children, spouses, friends, art. The journey of discovering someone’s life—someone’s mind—is, at turns, engaging and intrusive, tedious and exhilarating. So that I might find myself on any given day thinking, What does reading Moby Dick have to do with writing a Larry Eigner biography?

It would appear that this is part of something larger, an actual biography that Bartlett is writing on the life and work of Larry Eigner, a poet I know very little of, but am interested in. There have been a slew of poet biographies lately, from the recent Richard Brautigan biography, to forthcoming biographies on Robert Duncan and bpNichol, all of which have been long awaited. And will there ever be a further biography to continue what was covered in the biography of Robert Creeley from a few years back? In this short work, Bartlett focuses on the complications of discussing and not discussing Eigner’s writing in relation to the fact that he lived with cerebral palsy, something that a number of his friends, commentators and reviewers seemed to find uncomfortable, even if the author himself didn’t seem to.

The question then becomes how to talk about the poet’s work without stressing CP too much. Eigner’s biography is interesting, yes. But what is more interesting is how his body informs the work. A poet’s corporeal condition always informs his or her writing, but in the work of a poet with CP, the connection to the poetic movement is laid bare, and (due in no small part to the simple difficulties of navigating an “abled” world) even intensified. This can be a cause for excitement—or is a cause for excitement in the case of Eigner. Particularly because Eigner’s poems were typed before computers, one can see the skeleton, the underpinnings, of the connection between soul/body/breath/poem.

The conversation reminds me of a performance I saw in Ottawa through Louis Cabri and Rob Manery’s N400 Reading Series by British sound poet Aaron Williamson, a writer who is deaf. To be able to perform, he had to do an hour’s worth of vocal exercises beforehand, and the act of performing sound poetry became as much a physical act as anything else. How could it not?

I am very interested in seeing what becomes of this project.

Brooklyn NY: From nonprofit art and publishing collective Ugly Ducking Presse come two new gracefully-designed chapbooks: Ernst Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth (2012), translated from the German by Gary Sullivan, with contributions from Oya Ataman and Ekkehard Knörer, and Sandra Liu’s On Poems On (2012). I’m fascinated by Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth, apparently the first collection of the late Austrian writer (1920-1991) to appear in English in the United States. As Sullivan writes his short but compelling introduction:

While working in a munitions factory in 1940, Herbeck reported the feeling of animals or other people—often a girl—invading his body, controlling his thoughts and actions. He was briefly institutionalized, released, and later served for half a year in the military. He was hospitalized again in 1945 and forced to endure shock treatment. He spent the rest of his adult life in mental institutions, most of it at the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic near Vienna.

In the fall of 1960, the psychologist and writer Dr. Leo Navratil (1921-2006), head clinician at Maria Gugging and a promoter of art brut, met with Herbeck for the first time. Wanting to provide the patient with an outlet for personal expression, Navratil gave Herbeck a blank postcard-sized piece of Bristol board and a ballpoint pen ad asked him to write something on the subject of “morning.” After a period of consideration, Herbeck wrote the first poem in the present collection.

Navratil was struck by the results and continued to meet with Herbeck, each time prompting him to write another poem, until the poet’s death 31 years later on September 11, 1991.

For about a half-decade, I ran weekly poetry workshops through Jack Purcell Community Centre for people living with mental illness, and there are qualities here I recognize from the poems presented during those days. There is a quiet, subtle essentialness to these poems, if not a gentle urgency. Although I’m not sure why the translations are presented so gracefully throughout the small collection, yet the originals appear en masse at the back in a much smaller font, sometimes three to  a page?


Yellow is the sand of the earth
Yellow is the color of the bronze forests.
Yellow is the hearts of flowers.
Yellow are the asters.
Yellow is the meadow. of money.
The franc is yellow. — brunette.
i have seen a yellow franc.
yellow is for example my pencil. (Ernst Herbeck)

Seemingly a first chapbook by Sandra Liu, On Poems On is constructed out of a series of meditations on light, and its absence. An uneven little book, some of the pieces are tight, and some meander; her strength comes from the tight lines, such as in the poem “Take a look at this,” holding a line break as deliberately as a thought.

Take a look at this

The lyre of clothesline outside my window
vibrates slightly, silently. Typhoon #3 calmed.

The large white and crinkles shut in the window
across from me, probably a one-block distance away, billows;

rests; billows. A plastic bag; an apron, maybe a skirt;
a plastic bag. My glass acts like it’s melting.

An action figure in a floral print housedress
walks away from the market. Grocery bags included.

Headlights at sunset, doesn’t seem to apply to boats.
Fast cars pass the chinks between buildings.

A burst of kitchen steam. A flickering tv.
A woman, another one, a granddad moving around.

A t-shirt on a hanger drying inside.
A billowing apron hung out. (Sandra Liu)

Grand Rapids, MI: From horse less press comes another new chapbook, this one from Seattle poet and musician Rebecca Loudon, her TRISM (2012), a prose-poem sequence that weaves through a narrative of bears and the divine. I’d be interested to hear some of her thinking behind such a sequence. Is this a Victorian western about bears, or something entirely other? Exactly what is the story, here?

The girls were named Alice the boys were named Jack. Their room was a wheel on a ship. Approach cautiously. Rouge was the place they looked for. Played wounded in battle. Trism Bear scouted the courtyard. Bears have no patience with rhetoric. Drank up felt the beer rise. Alices disappeared in the past making police work difficult. Took care at the conference of birds plague masks unguents curious recipes. Alices lowered the shawls from their foreheads under the influence of pebbles. Jacks leapt to their feet. Safety’s luxury came late. Broken glass on the Marilyn Shrine oranges and pine a candle made from human fat. The moon was down but there was enough light for horses to ford the river. Cherished a secret grudge against breathing machines. Did not let Trism Bear hear. Alices and Jacks were homeless and waiting for food. Desolation Point. The difficult miracle of anvil wince and shit. They were what was found there.

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