Friday, April 15, 2011

Miles Champion - Eventually

The letterpress (fine printing) tradition evolved over time, as a surviving technology of the moveable type era in the history of printing. Over the last century and a half, as automated mechanical printing methods developed and progressively replaced old fashioned moveable type techniques, hand-set impression printing has become the province largely of art. Today, given the costs and time associated with moveable type printing, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to explore and exploit the relationship between creative text generation and the means of reproduction. Indeed, as I explained in my essay for the Collected Eigner edition [Stanford University Press, 2010, "The Text as an Image of Itself"], the alienation of the artist writer from the medium of expression has been a characteristic of Western Literature for half a millennium, and continues through to this day. A few "strugglers in the wilderness" continue to produce limited editions of livres d'artistes books, broadsides and pamphlets, employing the older tradition of hand-set type and quality sewn gatherings and bindings which once were the prevailing manner of book production. Modern book design and traditional moveable type book making have been uncertain collaborators during the last century--as craftsmen, devoted to the old-fashioned look and feel of old quality book construction and templates, have tended not to embrace Modern or Post-Modern design ideas. The incorporation of newer visual or structural concepts into the dwindling fine arts printing tradition has been piecemeal, at best.

But there have been exceptions. A while back I received a gratis copy of Miles Champion's pamphlet Eventually. It's published by The Rest Press. Neither the pamphlet, nor the press's online web page say where it's located [New York? Alabama?]. The web site states the press "exists as an entity dedicated to publishing poetry in printed forms which do justice to the visual and tactile dimensions of the work," which is probably how I'd put it myself. Especially the "tactile" part. As the physical qualities of books produced for mass consumption continue to degrade, under the increasing pressure of the new non-material ("electronic") vanguard, books made to appeal as objects to be held and experienced in the hand and by the eye become scarcer and scarcer.

The Rest's edition of Eventually clearly belongs to the art book tradition, and deserves consideration as an ideal example of the form. Ultimately, what we'll want--somewhere down the road--is writing which could not exist in a form other than its material realization. Champion's work doesn't attain that standard, obviously because it wasn't composed as an integration with the presentation, which succeeded the writing as a possible presentation, as a wine glass "serves" the wine--wine served "by the glass." So it's possible to defend the work on purely extra-material grounds, without reference to its container, though in this instance, the form contains the content with considerable panache. We don't ask of writers--or artists--to be other than they are, or to aspire to goals that they haven't already set for themselves.

If major publishers were interested in exploiting the market for tantalizingly attractive books like this, they might actually instigate more interest in it, but of course publishers already have their backs to the wall, and are unlikely to indulge in any appreciation of the material qualities of the text. If traditional material publishing gets pushed into a corner, it might end up occupying a place not unlike that which fine press printing has had in the larger universe of print media.


V E N T U A L L Y is published in an edition of 300 copies, 30 of which are signed hardcovers. A run this short imposes an automatic limitation on the number of possible readers, but that exclusivity may be a part of its appeal. Small is not by definition beautiful, but it may indicate an attention to detail unattainable at a larger scale. Hand-sewing, to take one aspect, is a painstakingly slow process, rich in human ingenuity. The preciosity of that production value, alone, is a gift the craftsman offers to anyone sensitive enough to appreciate the result.

As a contextualized surface of event, Eventually is a platform for the elaboration of spheres of linguistic occasion. Marshaling the resources of chance, surprise and invention into an integrated sequence of variable continuity (wow, does sound abstract!), Champion folds and refolds the panels of implication and connotation in a weird, flickering movie of total transformation. Each change (or combination), which occurs as often at the level of the phrase, as it does at the splice of the line-break, allows the reader to sample the disjunction (its distance, stretch, bull's-eye) at his leisure, without necessitating the apprehension of any larger narrative, strung together along provident or gratuitous linear vectors. If enough is happening minutely that we lose track of the larger picture, it may be that we've become so accustomed to constructing puzzles, that we've mixed up the pieces from different boxes, and so may never be able to find where this one piece fits. And maybe the picture was never really a picture at all, but a mosaic of what's simply happening.

Invention is obstinacy

sitting on memory's blade

Notched by unfolding an inner transparency

in Haikuesque tweed

These delightful changes inspire a delectation of qualities that are both purely linguistic (aural, familiar, unique) but also somehow pre-existing in the universe of meaning. They're like social references emerging from the cornucopia of surprise--

Goods sunk in the sea with a buoy attached

. . .

The text appears to radiate in and out of

. . .

Hits return with its skull

. . .

I pollinate blotters

--and so on. If Chico Marx had been a Post-Modern poet, he might have conjured phrases as titillating as these.

I walk by bouncing
up its pages
where clouds are
faint from farsight's
tandem red brick
in spoke room
each clock face
to its interval

Could lines (changes) like these have been written without Tom Raworth coming before? Listening to an MP3 tape of Champion reading on A Voice Box archive of recorded readings (from August 2008 in Oakland), I learn that Miles is a Brit (or at least a Commonwealth guy) who reads his poems so fast you can hardly follow them, which may of course be the point--hastening the performance so that the breathlessly quick passage is experienced with a rapidity that mimics the presumed mental velocity. Can poetry be a model for the ultimate trip? QED.

First page of text


give bound to a susceptible formalism

bends the show of things to a brain-like source

Signs of rust
abandon a whistle or paint chip

are prefigured like flowers

frisk in the air

flip an aesthetic switch

transfigure maples and alders

comes into ear

milling about

Though it may be true that "walls give bound to a susceptible formalism" it isn't true that "roofs frisk in the air." The distance between these two kinds of statement provides a range of possible levels of statement which either asserts or denies their co-existence within the context of a single poem. "Dust" obviously does come "into [the] ear" though "extremities" cannot be said to be "milling about" except in some arena of definition which allows for the reassignment of deliberate meanings. One must develop a taste for these kinds of flips and segues, and the manner in which anyone's practice, by habit or inclination, employs them, is a measure of the specific nature of one's mind.

It is sweet and made up

. . .

Moving time by contrast

. . .

They found the summers lightly boxed

. . .

order the rocks with ice

. . .

There shrinks a pebble

--and so on. What I like about this writing is its freedom and relaxed air of distraction, which belies to some degree what I hear in the poet's reading of it. The poems ask to be weighed and weighted on a careful scale of balance, whereas their evident orchestration is to be propelled into a blur. Which is why I have such trouble with readings. One's sense of what survives the page, into thin air, is ephemeral and insubstantial. What texts do do, and should do, is give us the gist of everything, sans any spin or cadenzas of exaggeration. Champion's work bears watching, and I'll look for more. But I'll read it as I like, with no thought of how it's likely to be sung in church on Sunday.



J said...

hastening the performance so that the breathlessly quick passage is experienced with a rapidity that mimics the presumed mental velocity. Can poetry be a model for the ultimate trip? QED.

Ending an implied "argument" with a question, and then a QED?

Serio, poesy rarely if ever flows like say ...Coltrane or Chopin or yr fave balinese gamelan flows. Whatz the best beatnik against 'Trane blowing through Countdown ? Fairly insignificant IMHE. At times....a few poems might work--ignite, so to speak-- though usually not anglo-American (like recalling first reading of Neruda, en espaƱol n anglo, and a dictator's head on a pole or somethin' ). Authentic music doesn't require the ....conceptual leaps or something--you hear a Chopin etude, like the "Ocean", played to perfection (or near), and ....Res Ipsa Loquitur!.

Conrad DiDiodato said...


you've given what seems (to me)a lament for a type of book that's been straying from its more solid "literary reproduction" techniques, such as moveable type: an impression I get from the faulty way in which (as you say) text is read from a Miles Chamption-type publication. As if the physical format can control literary receptivity itself. Can it really?

You also reveal through a suspicious "wine glass" analogy a characterization of pamphlet production that's been reduced to garish art design with quickly fading appeal power. And the conclusion you draw is, not surprisingly, that since Champion's text could not have appeared except as such a flimsy, easily degradable artifact it's no wonder the appeal is ultimately to poetics associated with the physicality of text itself, such as line breaks, elements of literary surprise (a type of writing Chico Marx could've successfully aspired to!)& deliberately contrasting meanings.

But what you lament as weaknesses (referring to it as a product of "chance, surprise and invention"), I celebrate as strengths. With the elimination of some of the disparaging terminology this could have been a fitting tribute to a new type of writing, book production & aesthetics. In fact, I'll bet a few of the poems of the great Eigner himself could be wonderfully reproduced in such a pamphlet text.

Perhaps this is why Fama railed for so long against compressing Eigner into the strict (unyielding configurations) of traditional printing: the view, in particular, of the master printer/editor who divides a work into processes strictly conformable to traditional modes of production.

Curtis Faville said...


Invidious comparions do no one any good. Let's compare apples to apples, and see what we get. Coltrane or Chopin have little if anything to do with Champion's poetry. Musical metaphors are useful in a creative way, but critically they're very limiting.

I notice this in your other comment, too, about "levels" of speech. Do you honestly think people should model their speech after Dashiell Hammett's prose style? Or gangster English?

There ARE useful distinctions to be made between American and British English, but I'm not sure just speaking grammatically (versus ungrammatically) should inspire "continents of misapprehension" (in Marianne Moore's phrase). You tend to characterize cultural tropes in very exaggerated ways, as if the most extreme instances were somehow generally applicable.

Ezra Pound wrote his letters in a style not unlike yours, but it (Pound"s) seems from our perspective rather pointlessly and pretentiously slangy. Cultivating that seems a waste of time.

The language changes all the time, and we can't stop it, but we can at least try to define taste (and sense) in preference to simple ignorance. There's nothing condescending about that agenda. We want our kids to learn how to speak effectively and clearly. That's why we send them to school.

Curtis Faville said...


You raise a number of interesting points, but you've completely missed the main thrust of my post. That must be a failure of mine.

I'll address these questions in a day or two. Right now I'm off to bed to rise at 4 AM and hurry off to a library book sale.

J said...

No, you're mistaken, Conrad, and didn't understand my point, as usual--CF asked whether poetry can "be a model for the ultimate trip". I answered in the negative

Do you honestly think people should model their speech after Dashiell Hammett's prose style?

Well, it's probably a bit late for you and most in the Silliman gang, but, like that's an affirmative. Then have you ever read Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, etc? Dash's noir dialogue is like a veritable Botticelli of verbiage Americana.

Pound himself considered music quite related to "poetry," did he not. One problem with the bric a brac little jackboot poems is that they have no sense of rhythm or music, or awareness of syntax. Like blobs of colors, decorations, like the decorations of that creepy WASP Creeley, or the beat haiku hustle.

What's a little book of haikus and images compared to Dostoyevsky, or even some traditional work by Coleridge, Wordsworth, etc?? Nada . poetry sucks, 95% of the time

J said...

Hammett wrote (and spoke) very clearly--. It's poeticals who can't write or speak clearly--sort of like, if you can't write journalism, research, or effective prose, be a poet! yeahh