Friday, December 31, 2010

The Hybrid Negroni - a Sport

Holidays are a splendid time for cocktails. In fact, it's the one time during the year when some people do drink, who don't, or wouldn't at any other time. New Year's, especially, is a time when most people will venture a sip or two, if for no other reason than to be cooperative in the spirit of the occasion.

I gave up making resolutions years ago. In fact, the whole idea of resolutions strikes me as silly and pathetic. What more artificial benchmark--than the turn of the year--to declare allegiance to some plan, or to make some pledge.

When I was a kid, we used to mark the arrival of the 4th of July, and New Year's, with fireworks--especially firecrackers, "lady fingers," "cherry bombs" and "salutes" (those last were pretty impressive explosions!). It was a chance to "play with fire" and make some noise, to engage in a slightly naughty (even marginally illegal) activity, without actually getting in trouble. I put making New Year's resolutions up there with making wishes before blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. Quickly forgotten, and seldom (if ever) stuck with.

Here's a sweet mix for the holidays--a kind of hybrid Negroni--if you know the classic drink, which is available on most cursory drink menus across the restaurant spectrum.

Ingredients (by proportion):

3 parts sweet vermouth
2 parts Mandarin orange liquor
2 parts compari
1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice

Well shaken and served up.

Don't make resolutions you can't keep, and if you do make them, make them modest and easily attainable. That way, you'll have a half-way chance of realizing them. Also, you have the opportunity to achieve something within your grasp.

Last night on PBS they ran another special on Dale Chihuly, the glass-art master, whose latest installations at the De Young Museum were on the theme of gardens, baskets and starbursts. Many of his most recognizable works are like ganglia of colored worm-like projections, sort of post-Modernist chandeliers. Some of them suggest nothing so much as fireworks in a night sky, with colored streams and vectors exploding in all directions from an explosive center.

Here's to you, dear reader, hoping that you appreciate your circumstances as much as I do these days. All signs point to an "austere" year for Americans. Unless, of course, you're already rich, in which case the extension of the Bush tax cuts for another two years comes just at the right moment.

Dasvidaniya !!!

Pure Abstraction vs. The E-col-con-ogical-omic Implications of Raw Subject Matter

I've written before about Brett Weston's work here, on August 13 2009. Weston, the son of Edward Weston, literally grew up surrounded by cameras and the production of images, and I think it's safe to say that his ability and emotional development as a photographer happened in so natural and "inevitable" a way that he probably never had to project an intellectual foundation for his approach to subject matter and choice of image. When faced with the challenge of describing his work habits or the meaning of his work, he chose to let others do this, or to let another art (i.e., poetry) stand for his "explanation" of what his art signified. This "intuitive" or "naive" stance is not uncommon. Harry Callahan was often thought of as a "naive" genius, for whom words and thought were unnecessary; and, in Hemingway's case, critical thinking seems to have constituted a metaphysical threat to his identity and function as a creative writer. "I don't know what it means, but I know what I like."

Brett photographed all over the world during his life, but he was never averse to discovering subjects that just happened to catch his eye, whatever their relative "importance"--his interest in abstraction led him to take exposures in all kinds of unlikely places. He could turn out the most dramatic big landscapes, like his father or Adams could, but he didn't limit himself to "classic" views and certified "scenes." This is nowhere more apparent than in his textural studies of ice, glass, metal, tar, lava, building materials, sand--stuff which he called "elegant gorp." Gorp might resolve itself into a composition in any circumstance. The image below is of a road cut, a newly paved segment of highway somewhere in the American West, probably in California. It's about as unprepossessing a "subject" as any serious photographer could think of as pure art, or pure abstraction. Highways are usually considered aesthetically "ugly" or drab or empty. Asphalt, or gravel mixed with bitumen, is particularly unpleasant to be on, especially in warm weather, when it becomes soft, even sticky--especially when it's fresh. As paving for vehicles, though, it's ideal.

Highway engineers tend to prefer straight lines, and if they're presented with barriers between two respective points, they usually want to push straight through the landscape, obliterating obstacles by cutting them down, or cutting through them, instead of paying the price in materials, cost, and efficiency by going around. This example of the "roadbuilder's art" is transformed in the eye of the photographer into a stunning abstraction of dramatic perspective, its mathematical efficiency a testament both to a human determination to lay down a straight vector of transport, and to the destructive effect of man's manipulation of the environment--like a slice through the organic contour of the earth. Questions about the destination of such a ribbon of desire through an otherwise "empty" landscape seem secondary to the isolated appropriation of form that is the abstractionist's first priority--to make a powerful image, without immediate reference to the ulterior purpose or utility of the matter itself.

Flat representation of the environment which implies depth (of field), but which presents an absorbing two-dimensional design within the confines of its frame (in this case, a horizontal rectangle), may serve multiple vantages of regard. The post-Modernist Robert Adams has built a reputation, taking degraded and depleted American landscapes with large format equipment; his images often are as "ugly" as they are compelling visually. The irony of abstraction is that it may indeed present a chaotic scene in such a way that we simultaneously luxuriate in, and revile, what we are presented with. This seems one of contemporary photography's primary post-Modern tropes, the ambiguity of man's effect on the environment. Among the various contrary traditions in the history of the medium has been the production of idealized views. The intersection of "scenic" with documentary styles has led to a de-naturing of the positive assumptions about notions of memorable recordation and celebration.

The decadence of the romanticization of the West in the American imagination has evolved into an elegiac despair, in which the accuracy of our vision is a testament not to our joy in finding beauty (the beauty of unspoiled nature)--which is rapidly being eroded and degraded through exploitation and development--but has led, finally, to an indignant and grim despair at the approach of a coming waste land of over-use and mindless growth. Photography has been used to document the horrors of war, the suffering of child-labor, human degradation, and so on. We've learned to look at stunning views of things, fascinating and eerily lush, even hypnotic, while knowing that what we're looking at is a rape of the landscape, perpetrated for economic gain, or personal gratification.

Brett Weston's career began well before the advent of this kind of aesthetic thinking even began to be imagined. In the California, or Mexico of his childhood and youth, the world seemed much less spoiled and crowded and poisoned than it would eventually become. Coastal aspects, for instance, were largely open and unrestricted. This "open country" illusion was central to the implied aesthetic of the first and second waves of serious photographers who explored the great expanses of the North American continent in the late 19th--and first of half of the 20th--Century. Brett's adaptation of the abstractionist's interest in pure form is a transitional stage between the regard for landscape as picturesque, friendly and heroic phenomena, and our present sense of nature not only as a casualty of our rapacious expansionist practices, but as a deeper realization that the universe may not, on balance, be a friendly place after all. The first pictures of the atomic bomb, and the photos of earth taken from space, or on the empty, airless surface of the moon, would have confirmed that. Inert matter does not "care" whether we exist or not. And life is a struggle amongst competitors. The fragile ecological balance which existed for countless centuries before the rapid explosion of human activity on the planet, has already been irrevocably mismanaged and distorted. The ultimate photographic act may be as documentation of the last stages of our existence, though for what purpose such a record might be created would seem moot. Maybe by seeing truly, without the deliberate distortions of wishful thinking, we may confront the obvious catastrophe before it's too late.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Salli Terri & The Almeida Combo Recordings of 1958

I don't follow opera much, and a lot of what is called art song seems to exist in a pocket of space and time that I never enter. But I was much taken in the summer after my third year of college with a recording which a new friend of mine named Vern introduced me to: Duets with Spanish Guitar, featuring soprano Salli Terri, here in its original LP sleeve--

and here, in its later incarnation as a part of a double CD reissue from EIMI/Angel--

For those of you who don't like classical soprano voice, be advised that these tracks don't sound like opera, because they're settings (except for the famous one of Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasilieras No 5) of popular South American cabaret or folk tunes, lively and sexy. But Ms. Terri's voice is very special indeed. Not being, as I say, an aficionado of classical voice, I'm unqualified to judge its professional calibre, but can only confess that it speaks to me in a deeply emotional way.

Ms. Terri made a series of recordings with the superb Spanish guitarist Laurindo Almeida in the late 1950's, which were issued in (I believe) three separate collections. Those I first heard were from the initial album selections. YouTube only has a couple of selections from these albums--the Villa-Lobos and a rousing piece called Boi-Bumba. Here is a listing of the entire CD Album contents--

"Entr'acte" (Jacques Ibert) — 3:12
"Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" (Heitor Villa-Lobos) — 2:24
"Ronde" (Emile Desportes) — 2:01
"Azulao" (Jayme Ovalle) — 1:28
"Prelude in E Minor" (Frédéric Chopin) — 2:13
"O Cacador" (Laurindo Almeida) — 1:47
"Pastorale Joyeuse" (Desportes) — 2:36
"Tres Pontos de Santo" (Ovalle) — 4:06
"Tambourin" (François-Joseph Gossec) — 1:26
"Boi-Bumbá" (Valdemar Henrique) — 1:35
"Sicilienne" (Gabriel Fauré) — 4:00
"Para Niñar" (Paurillo Barroso) — 2:20
"Pièce en Forme de Habanera" (Maurice Ravel) — 2:45
"Maracatu" (Ernani Braga) — 3:33
"Pavane pour une infante défunte" (Ravel) — [Bonus Track] 3:53
"Passarinho Está Cantando" (Francisco Mignone) — [Bonus Track] 1:23
"Modinha" (Bandeiro, Ovalle) — [Bonus Track] 2:20
"Waltz from the Serenade for Strings" (Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky) — [Bonus Track] 2:53"Canción from Siete Canciones Populares Españolas" (Manuel de Falla) — [Bonus Track] 1:24"Farrúca" (De Falla) — [Bonus Track] 2:38

The voice combo recordings are interspersed with pieces by Almeida and a flautist named Martin Ruderman--which are in their way as inspired and beautiful as the pieces sung by Terri. The whole CD can be "sampled" on the following "myspace" page (, if you have an iTunes software on your PC.

The problem with music that one discovers at this age, is that there is always the danger that it will effect one more deeply than it otherwise might have, simply because one was, at that time, in love, or falling in love--which was the case for me that year. There is nothing quite like the romance of a lovely female voice when one is loving a woman, intensely, for the very first time. But let's not get maudlin.

I can't say I know very much about Salli Terri, aside from my experience of her emotional sensibility as expressed in her recordings (which is really something!). She was born in Canada in 1922, and emigrated to the U.S., taking degrees in Music at Wayne State and USC before traveling to teach English (!) in Japan in the early 1950's. She eventually married, bore two children, and had a long career as a teacher of music theory in Fullerton, and conducted chorale, while pursuing a professional career as a classical singer. She even did some work in the movies. Died in Long Beach in 1996.

Salli doesn't appear to have been a great beauty, but she wasn't unattractive, at least on the evidence of the stylized portrait above, apparently made while she was residing in Japan. But the quality of her voice has been one of the great pleasures of my life. I've listened to the three albums she made with Almeida over and over for over 40 years, and they never get old.

I hope others may have this experience as I did. Salli Terri's flexibility was such that she could perform and evoke classical pieces and expression as well as she could cabaret or folk melodies. The common thread was the stirring and heart-felt conviction she brought to each setting. One is moved to exaggeration: There can be no higher value to an artistic experience than listening to a master, milking all the passion and hunger for life communicated through the instrument of the voice. Hearing her sing is like being in love all over again.

You can still purchase the CD online. At $8.99 per, it's the best musical bargain in history.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Minimalism X: Isolation & Concentricity - On a Poem of Robert Grenier

At an extremity of tenderness and awe, I've spent the better part of my adult life in astonished regard of an early mentor whom I encountered at the threshold of my sense of myself as a writer and thinker about literature. After an intense year and a half as a student in his writing class at UC Berkeley in the late 1960's, I maintained but sporadic contact with him through the succeeding decades, until we reunited in the shared labor of editing Larry Eigner's Collected Poems [Stanford University Press, 2010], a task of some seven long years.

Life is often a series of disagreements or misapprehensions, and the resolution of them, often in doubt, may lead to revelation, or confusion. But as regards an objective standard--my appreciation and fascination with Bob's work--there has never been any wavering of my devotion. I often think that I am usually about 5-7 years behind Bob's progress, in terms of how fast his mind moves forward in time. I think it probably takes that long for me to become comfortable with, and to appreciate, just what he is doing at any particular moment. I recall the first time I encountered his S C R A W L works. Although I've never actually seen him "write" one, I watched as he collaborated in the imaging of them by a photographer whom he had contracted to document the work in chrome positives, using a 35 millimeter camera. This was a laborious process, but one which Bob was certain he needed to do, since there seemed no better medium available to preserve the work, which consisted of hand-drawn "visual" poems on facing pages of small art notebooks, in multi-colored inks. Each notebook contains/ed unique works, which cannot be "translated" into other media (such as print) without disturbing the character of the image, which is everything.

Meanwhile, an earlier poem, from his collection Series [this press, 1978], stretches the limits of traditional poetry, at a point in time in which it was/would have been well beyond the known bounds of anything critics or writers of that time would have thought of as "literature." It was so far ahead of its time that it eclipsed possible existing definitions of "poem" to achieve a surreal presence, eerie in its contrast. Here is the poem in its entirety:


Take a moment to consider. Don't rush. Listen to your feelings. In typing the poem, I'm at a loss to know quite how to present it. Does the poem exist on a typed page, or on the face of a rock? How big are the letters, and where "in space" does it exist? What does it mean? If it's the evidence of some intention, what is that intention, and in what sense is it an "expression" of something, by someone, at a moment "in time"? Since it is not buttressed with any grammatical referents, but exists alone, separated from all other language (words), its isolation implies a regard which magnifies or reduces its possible significance as a "fragment" of speech.

The word, a noun, suggests that it points to, or stands for, the object to which it refers; but that referentiality is without qualification. Does the word jar stand for all jars, or just one particular jar? In a philosophical sense, all jars are jars, and nothing else. But not all jars are alike, and the generic jar may be elaborated into varieties of types and shapes and styles of jar(s). But the word jar, by itself, can't have all those meanings, or conversely, it can incorporate all the senses of (or versions of) jar, inside itself. Call it the set of all possible jars which exist in the universe.

In an earlier post on Wallace Stevens's poem Anecdote of the Jar (A'Jar, January 2, 2010), I discussed how that earlier work sets up a "classical Metaphysical dichotomy between Nature and Man-made Form, and asks us to imagine what the effect the existence of a man-made object might imply within the context of a "wild" landscape." That kind of dialectic, Aristotelian in its efficiency, requires the construction of an Hegelian triad, placing the speaker (and reader) in an objective position as viewer or observer; the relationship between the poem and its possible audience is fixed: The poem is a transference of linguistic data from a speaker who proposes, and a reader who responds. Its occasion is as print on a page, in a book, its parameters set out and enclosed within the terms of its form: Sentence, breath, page, letters, hand and eye. Stevens would not have thought to isolate any term of his proposition as an isolated instance of visual fact, insisting (as I'm sure one would agree) that words isolated from their grammatical contexts cease to "mean" anything beyond their generic, referential sense. And the presumption of gratuitous non-agency would also doubtless be leveled against such usage.

In what sense, then, is Grenier's "word" really a poem? How does isolating it in space "communicate" anything about anything? Does the word, thus, "belong" to anyone? In what sense is it even Grenier's poem, and not anyone else's? If it's not a "poem" then what is it?

Think about the word itself, sans any probable intentions one might impute. Composed of a single syllable, two consonants separated by a vowel. Sound it out: JAR. "Jarrrrrrrrrrrrr." In one sense, you don't even really need the vowel. We pronounce the letter r as "are" even though it isn't preceded by a vowel. Every letter has a name, and a word which might stand for its "sound." The letter j is pronounced "jay" even though there is no "ay" at the end of the letter. Could the word be spelled JR and still "sound" (be sounded) as it is when written out JAR? Or would we think it referred to a character in a television mini-series? Or a novel by William Gaddis. And why, while we're at it, are all the letters in capitals?

When I read this poem, something peculiar happens. I say it, over and over, and it begins to echo or yawn out into a kind of shape. Call it parabolic, like "yar" or "far" or "afar." The r sound begins to stretch and spread out into space, giving a graphic logarithm of its oscillation through a given atmosphere. Words "mean" their sound as well as their "sense." So that when we read a word, we hear it at the same time, though the degree to which we fully experience this sounded quality may be limited by training and the layering of presupposition in context.

Any word isolated from the rest of language (all other words) draws attention to itself for what it is, as opposed to what "use" can be made of it, as a part of the universe of words. This allows us to experience it as a discrete phenomenon, as an isolated instance of something. Letters thus become the defining blocks of how we "read" anything as a separate "piece" of speech. This can occur in different ways. Someone saying the word "jar" is not the same as "reading" the word "jar" displayed on a piece of paper. Language is enunciated or "silent" in these two senses. If the occasion is as here, on a metaphorical "page" displayed in a "window" on a computer screen, we have the choice to read it aloud, or to read it "silently" "in our mind(s)."

Think of the poem as a self-enunciating entity, its sound a continuous vibration which we "hear" whenever we focus on it. Its characteristic oscillation in the imaginary space in which it floats (detached) may exist separately, then, from its visual shape and density in flat, two-dimensional representation (the "page"). So that when we "see" the letters JAR, what we are seeing is the literal symbol of a vibrating entity, the buzz of the pitch of a voiced pronunciation (voicing) of the ideal sound jar. And, of course, that sound is linked to, or connotative of, all the other "ar" sounds in the language (or in all the languages the reader/speaker may have experience of). The word "echoes" across the spectrum of all possible cognitive referents in the mind/minds of the reader/readers.

For me, the poem sounds as a visual parabolic wave which arcs upward and towards the right hand side (in space), gradually diminishing as the sound disappears into emptiness. The letter r replicates itself as a continuous vocable: rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. The letter J is odd; its curling descender like a hook in space, it's a joker and a jackanape. Like g (G), its sound pinched between the tongue and the roof of the mouth (fricative). Any word is an echo in the mouth and throat of the speaker. Any word is an echo in the mind of the reader.

If a word is isolated, is it then also lonely? Do words want other words, to be whole? Can words have their own agency, apart from our use of them? Can words be? The rhetorical redundancy of such interrogatives implies a shifting relationship between words as things, and words as a part of a system of signs--letters, words, grammars, contexts. In what position is the "author" of a poem like this? The author might say, as Grenier has said, "I made that," the phrase neatly encapsulating the philosophical connection between himself as agent, the active process of production ("made") and the object ("that"). That is a jar. In my sense, the words "a jar" join to make the word "ajar"--and I think of the phrase as a wedge in space through which meaning is glimpsed.

Language exists in time, but when a word, especially a one syllable word, is isolated in space, time seems to be removed from the equation between the reader/speaker and the "text." If a word is isolated both in space and time, it may cease to function literally as anything more than a fragment of something proposed, rather like a meteorite found in a field. Letters may coddle or thwart our apprehension of sense by departing from the possible universe of familiar meaning, or we may be persuaded to see, for the first time, what Gertrude Stein meant when she said of her line "A rose is a rose is a rose" that "in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years." Is it possible to "recover" the sense of words in their original power and evocative meaning through some manipulation? Obviously it is.

But a restoration isn't the main thrust of Grenier's agenda, though it might well be a byproduct of his approach to language. What happened when man first made written words? Before then, he had used sounds to stand for things, and to communicate about the world through those sounds. Writing those sounds down was both a visual, and a referential systematic, process. It may be that this is what Grenier wants to "recover" in his S C R A W L S. The transitional poems contained in Series, ask us to consider the given set of words, in their traditional alphabetical sense, as possible isolate instances, as interrogatives to the categorical flattening of potential which occurs through "reading." Making words stand up and speak for themselves is one step towards a re-acquaintance with the original process of verbal invention, one which could take us all the way back 18,000 years to the cave drawings.

What happened to enable man to make "letters" (or "writing") instead of "pictures"? This was obviously a "moment" in the history of humankind which was transformative and revolutionary. Certainly many times more significant than the "invention" of moveable type. The original feeling for language which animates many of the best kinds of poetry--both traditional and experimental (in our time)--owes its power to this quality of apprehension of words. It may seem hopelessly reductive to focus on such minute particles of what has become a vast counting-house of data (language), but it is at this level that the actual building blocks of our understanding of language can be accurately recorded and speculated.

Monday, December 27, 2010

End of Singletary Era

The 49ers lost the next to last game of the season yesterday, experiencing the same combination of unforced errors, penalties, shoddy preparation and wasted opportunities the team has experienced the whole season. The best they could finish, if they win next week, would be 6-10, a crushing disappointment for a team many picked to win the West Division.

Following the team's return to San Francisco, young Jed York announced that Singletary had been "relieved of his duties as head coach" (i.e., fired), and that the defensive line coach would take over for the end of the season. Why York chose this particular moment to punish the head coach is unclear; perhaps it was a fit of pique. Singletary is the latest fall guy for a team that hasn't had a decent quarterback since Jeff Garcia left after the 2003 season. Asking Singletary to win with a proven loser was a recipe for disaster.

As I've said here before, the problem with this team wasn't its head coach, its line play, its playmakers, or its game plans. The problem was at quarterback. Alex Smith was a bust the minute he took the field for the Niners, and there's been no evidence at any point since, in the five years he's been here, that we could expect anything better. Why an organization would stubbornly stick with an inferior talent at the most important position, year after year, is a testament to its stupidity and face-saving cowardice.

But Singletary isn't a coward. He's a proud warrior who got saddled with an impossible situation--something he knew from the start. He believed in himself, and his ability to inspire players to reach beyond their given potential, to overcome adversity (and a poor quarterback), and win with sheer guts. But guts alone won't make a winner in the NFL. You need talent at all positions, and the most crucial position player is always the quarterback. Look at the teams in the lower third of the NFL standings; in every case their failure is due to mediocre play at quarterback. It's really a testament to Singletary, that the 49ers were 18-22 under his tutelage. How much worse might the team have played with a man of lesser stature?

Singletary was an easy guy to like, until the mid-point of this season, when his press conferences became pouting sessions. Mike knew that the team wasn't going anywhere, the handwriting was on the wall. Team ownership had hinted that this was his "last chance" to reach the playoffs. But everyone--fans, media, players, owners--knew that the real problem was at quarterback. Given management's continued refusal to dump Alex Smith, Singletary knew that he had to play the failed 1st draft pick, because that was the key to his job, even as he knew, in his bones, that he couldn't rely on him. If he played a replacement, the team would say he hadn't "used his best tools."

I think everyone knows now--after two fired coaches--that Alex Smith is the problem. The team has fired an excellent coach, to conceal its own ignorance and failure. Before Eddie DeBartolo took over the team in 1977, the team was beset with clueless management. After he departed, in 2000, over legal troubles involving gambling interests in Louisiana, the team began a downward spiral, which continues to this day. The character of an organization starts at the top, not at the bottom. Under the Yorks, and now son Jed, the team has flailed wildly about, without a plan, without focus. Mike Nolan chose the wrong guy in Smith, passing on Aaron Rodgers (who now leads Green Bay into the playoffs). This decision not only led to Nolan's demise, but has now ruined Singletary's head coaching career as well. The team needs an intelligent general manager, and a new young quarterback. If the team doesn't end up with a high enough draft choice, it should trade up and start over with a new No. 1 pick QB. If they stick with Alex, it won't matter who the new coach is.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Phantom of the Paradox - Grenier Inside the Beast

Phantom Anthems [Oakland: O Books, 1986] is a book of poetry.

Robert Grenier grew up in Minnesota.

He was my teacher at Berkeley in the late 1960's.

Bob asked "Why not apply to go to Iowa and get your MFA in Poetry Writing? It would be fun. You could live on a farm."

I always considered that Bob was responsible for my taking this "career" turn at the age of 22.

Years later, after bouncing around in the teaching profession, and working as a caretaker for Larry Eigner, Bob went to work for a law firm, Brobeck Phleger, in San Francisco, as a copyreader. It was a night job. Bob lived in Bolinas, and commuted. It was a grind.

He later said it made him "crazy"--this relentless commuting and mad word-mind processing during the mental eclipse of the night-shift.

He'd drive back across the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun was coming up over the horizon, and when he arrived home, he'd be "buzzing" and sleepy at the same time.

He'd sit down and punch out a poem or two before crashing. "It was a crazy time," he later told me, "in a sense the poems were just a regurgitation of all this fucked-up tension, this suppressed rage, this terrible regimen."

Phantom Anthems is a book of poetry, but very untypical of Bob's work. Beginning in the middle 1960's, his work became increasingly spare and intuitive, relying on the mystery of individual words and short phrases to reveal hidden connections between the psychology of linguistic comprehension and the preemptive rhythms of speech and enunciation. For a long time, he'd been working at this level, in which his work wasn't even regarded as poetry, as most people think of it. He'd stopped "writing poems" years ago, and had symbolically renounced that process forever, it seemed.

Phantom Anthems was like an improbable, unlikely explosion of pent-up music and frustrated physical confinement. Perhaps his deprecation of it, after the fact, was his way of excusing its apparent contradictory occurrence in the middle of an otherwise logical progression in the pace of his development as a writer of original, experimental writing.

Understood in the context of a"deluge of regurgitated confusion" the work takes on the added significance of a series of cathartic acts, in which the detritus of verbal exhaustion is reprocessed from a consciousness hovering precariously at the edge of control--at that point between waking and sleep when the unconscious is released from the bondage of focus and concentration, into a state of free association and autonomous play--even while the body is shutting down in anticipation of rest.


heart's ease home from blinding labor

still walnut palm & ratty pine cones

heart's ease at home from blinding labor

pointless syntax concentration on illumined miniscules

still walnut palm & ratty pine conspire

for moon light them & more pine needles

that's growing all over the window

just if as it were 'outside'

moonset looks like just if rising

from the West of course no night or day at this stage

in its just as if it was rising

full & fair at the first

time tomorrow night in the East the man in the head

require no more light than this

to write in the moonlight but less shadow

sleeps in the mind in woods during the day

of great dark apparent 'titanic'

red & black 'powers" & starlight

red & brown shadows think man

see in sleep & dreaming these images

that haunt you by day in actual visions

of the Balinese shadow play that Puppet

capitalization of the Moon

this head visible Spirit with its Aura

emblazoned on the dawn clouds

that Friday night for others in our

culture backyard the roadside puppetlike

front yard the freeway where the moon sits

actually speaking in pictures

more yellow into dawn's light blue

& grey orange 'fiery' clouds that

substitute for proofreading 'to write about'

rather wrest seeing from eyesight than chain

the whole world up in sight

on the surface table cloth

what could possibly have heard popped

settling down into treesy vine

& with it spectatorship of the moon

lit up the clouds in settling just like sunrise

except I need a flashlight to write now

it helps likewise to move toward the bathroom

still can see

turn off the flashlight look

through the shrubbery the lune

breaking the manacles by chattering

This is the signature piece of the collection, specifically in that it describes the initial condition of its composition, explaining the terms of his extremity ("pointless syntax" -- the legalese through which his mind's rolled-up tape of linear data "spends" time as work) from which the imagination escapes through its own facility. The accretion of detail through syntax builds up to observable surfeit of patience, tipping over into jiggling syllables of light (frustration). Interiority expressed as the rehearsal of planetary retrograde (moon set versus moon rise), as earth's day is reversed in dream (digging to China). Rejecting "capitalization of the Moon" in favor of a revisioning of it freshness via absolute fatigue, meanwhile the "backyard culture" of neighborhood deities and speaking ghosts, homely state of rustic canvas to exorcise such glint-eyed technics.

Substitute what for proofreading in shorthand to write about? Which when complete is the moon's own frost, christening leaf edges and eye-crinkles. This is the table under the supermarket of choices, mind its own flashlight through the woods dark from the shadows of negative noon. "Your guess is as good as a Mayan's." Cut it out and say what you mean.

Hearing a bird singing at night's eccentric plumb. Stop telegra in her tracks. I woke driving but fell asleep in a car crash. The wind chill the pre-dawn air chillier as a tremulous sensation. So hear this risen flotsam capacious & contort--


For Robert Creeley

breast snoring saxophone suddenly in place are so palpable

eventide evocative of manifest narrative reservoirs of mental means me that

in his place those heavy fleshed flanked and fleshy congested lungs

of his immaterial contours that heavy dogs hairy heave

upward through their noses by breathing in sleep I felt the Bronx

mutually through a nostril mine and jaw political subdivision suffused with teeth

& bone pink & grey green gains gums with animal animadvertent brown fluid

naturally that stands for/streams from corpus delicti us vs. all suffering gibberant

satisfactory though lyrical magical looks on earth & affirms why sleep at least

with the model monkey all mere effort of breathing aura in & out options

bastions corporations ideas geophysics iron poets teaching in extant universities

so forth is as dreaming sounds our ears both ever and anon falls dusk palms

dog here ah fellow Boom, listening, as human & man, to dawn's birds, your snores,

greenery, both my friends, our dual existence equally love fostered

thus subject to death unknown by heart attack in time

Like an expressionist ode to the revulsive physicality of being in the world, past the prime of an invocative regeneration, the poet bequeaths a mortal furry body burdened with phlegm-encrusted symptomatic invasions from outer or inner space, piling it on maybe even jamming it in if it fits or doesn't, cloistered in hearths o'erstrewn with steaming wool. Haunting silhouette, oracular visitations, brushy slopes. All these fructive burdensome lashings against the threat of chaos. Language heaped up in burgeoning surfeit. O'erwhelmed materiality--engorged on sensational mass. Eggnog out of season. Holly berry buttons. No poverty of means here.


I slept all day


she was a gloomy baby

a moody child

clouds pass across the forehead

& linger a while


the moon

will be clearly in the heavens for a discerning look

So in the crazy nightlong blunder of pushing resistant gaunt erect self ever onward, certain dry facts declare themselves without shame to exist in themselves as what they are. Mind mutters and kindles wet sparks into curling tendrils of heat. When the bread has risen Joseph Stalin will rise from his tomb. Black stacks emitting doom. E'er I pluck your jingle athwart the tawny grain of aged timber. The notion of labor as a metaphor for wasted human potential is like an angelic instigation. This is the good work. He couldn't control it, it just poured out in a rush, god help him, the reductionist's nightmare, a hemorrhagic eruption of stewed particulars, munchable and mild.