Sunday, January 04, 2009

Poetry Machines

Two years ago, I created a course at SFSU called Poetry Machines that began with the Futurisms, Italian and Russian, and concluded with Kenny Goldsmith, Caroline Bergvall, and Christian Bök. I had expected that Constructivism and a strict compliance with materialist philosophy might dominate the discussion, and for some students that was the case. Every week for three hours they removed their prosthetic devices of expression, lyricism, transcendence, depth, and "creativity" and allowed the machine / procedure / concept to have its way. The final class project was to present a poetry machine of their own. Along the way, I realized that my sympathies were with Khlebnikov's numerological prophecies, Jarry's math-driven Pataphysics, and Malevich's Suprematist period--art, in other words, that has a mystical and spiritual element. There's nothing wrong with machines; what matters is how they are designed and put to use. Ted Berrigan's sonnets were so alluring, because they put a 'new' machine, the cut-up, inside a worn-out but reliable old one. It's the same with contemporary musicians, who, through sampling techniques, offer an old song a new rhythm and cultural context. Think of Hal the computer from 2000: A Space Odyssey, down on his luck and drunk in a tavern, singing "Fly Me to the Moon" and "My Funny Valentine."

Here are two excerpts from a machine-driven poem of my own, joined for brevity and counterpoint (machines are often prolix and repetitive). Otherwise, I've not smoothed out the burrs and misfits. The fuel for the machine consisted of my own words (previous poems), placed into a word randomization program that allows the machine to be "tuned" before singing. I'm a little jealous of this work, because it is more radically lyrical than my other works and uses words like "adenose" and "cometits" I would never have considered.


All you’re indeed.inhumanity, god’s prettier movings
adenose willseeing, and rice, creation’s motherland,
and melodious cometits have their time. So of Oedipus
he painted ten sentences from enduring space,
the young under-familiar fence, songs its mouth-sign
and plain bad luck. Our shadow misbehaves, as if it couldn’t.

Beyond belfry, something crying. clearly mind.

Tragic. hair.
Myrtles. Calm Ricardo magic. Them, should plotwear.
Lyric reason imitates season, earthbrook distraction, has contradiction than poetic double Portuguese hole that lines pain. Will feeling, along beyond itself.
Consciousness still plays. For sharpeningdogs may aloud clearly,
cries merely being,
to demand a beautiful breakway, all.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

26 Instant Reviews

Reviewing poetry is increasingly a lost art, and it's so much work! I've created 26 instant reviews of no more than one line. The idea is match all the poets, critics, or school of poetry with their review. Match all of them and you may win a valuable prize.

1. Emily Dickinson
2. Ted Berrigan
3. Hart Crane
4. John Ashbery
5. Allen Ginsberg
6. Donald Justice
7. Marjorie Welish
8. Language Poetry
9. Marianne Moore
10. Galway Kinnell
11. Laura Riding
12. The New Formalism
13. August Kleinzahler
14. Jack Spicer
15. Gertrude Stein
16. Ezra Pound
17. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
18. Helen Vendler
19. Sharon Olds
20. Charles Olson
21. Dana Gioia
22. Anne Waldman
23. Frank O'Hara
24. Jack Kerouac
25. Gary Snyder
26. Paul Blackburn

A. Badda bing, badda boom.
B. Does a bear shit in the woods?
C. And if not, not.
D. My typewriter is bigger than your typewriter.
E. Big man, small town.
F. A little more uncertainty, please.
G. The well-hung muse.
H. Rebel angels, measured heaven.
I. I think I'll write a dictionary.
J. Stiff shirt in a sad closet.
K. There's no such thing as post-publication.
L. Unsettled by the name Oil Can Boyd.
M. I do not think it will signify to me.
N. Shyness unrequited
O. Nearing the non-ending.
P. Daring as never before.
Q. What price salience?
R. Not waving but drowning
S. Admiral and existentialist.
T. Let me recite you a ballad.
U. Is there sex in this class?
V. I've stopped being Theirs -
W. The emperor's old clothes.
X. Accidents are not itineraries.
Y. Spare hanger in a bone closet.
Z. How strange to be gone in a minute.

Apples and Oranges

Does a book of theory written in 1987 have anything to say today? Here's a call and response from Baudrillard's The Ecstasy of Communication (Semiotexte, 1987), consisting of the title essay, "Rituals of Transparency," "Metamorphoses, Metaphors, Mestasases," "From the System of Objects to the Destiny of Objects," and "Seduction, or, The Superficial Abyss":

Baudrillard: "Everything began with objects, yet there is no longer a system of objects. The critique of objects was based on signs saturated with meaning, along with their phantasies and unconscious logic as well as their prestigious differential logic. Behind this dual logic lies the anthropological dream: the dream of the object as existing beyond and above exchange and use, above and beyond equivalence; the dream of a sacrificial logic, of gift, expenditure, potlatch, 'devil's share' consumption, symbolic, exchange.

"All this still exists, and simultaneously it is disappearing. The description of this projective imaginary and symbolic universe was still the one of the object as the mirror of the subject. The opposition of the subject and the object was still significant, as was the profound imaginary of the mirror and the scene. . . . Today the scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and a network. There is no longer any transcendence or depth, but only the immanent surface of operations unfolding, the smooth and functional surface of communication. In the image of television, the most beatiful prototypical object of this new era, the surrounding universe and our very bodies are becoming monitoring screens."

Baudrillard uses a favorite word of theoretical & philosophical persuasion, "all." Having claimed the full wasting of perception, art, and culture, he can begin his elegy for the loss of depth, profundity, object and its shadow: "We no longer invest our objects with the same emotions, the same dreams of possession, loss, mourning, jealousy; the psychological dimension has been blurred, even if one can retrieve it in the particular."

We live in other words in a field of shadowless identities that have been flattened by their status as electronic imaginaries. Imagine then a field of identical oranges, each in its frame a la Magritte's "This is not a pipe" series, along with its non-identical caption: the alienated orange, the starving orange, the green orange, the defiant orange, the actual orange, and orange of the past. We are aware of the actuality of oranges; we have eaten them all of our lives. Do they taste flatter now because of the depth-lack of television or because they are boxed and shipped green? Is the orange in the mirror deeper metaphysically (and of more authentic character) than the orange on HD television? Or does the orange on a grainy color television, ca. 1987, hold greater status because of its interruptive, lay-bare-the-device means of presentation, so close to our imaginary of mind?

The Platonic orange, the one we hold in our hands, peel, and eat, poses under light in the produce section of the grocery store. It has been sprayed orange with food dyes and genetically altered to be the best orange it can be. It's the orange of desire, expression, seduction, appetite, and first thinking. This is the orange you dare take home to mother.