To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, November 30, 2012

Rae Armantrout: Four New Poems from a Work in Progress 2012


                       ALL SOULS

Pallid, thin skinned
potatoes bunched
like grapes
on yellow stems.


I can’t remember
my mother


This is not the mother
I remember.


When asked
if she’s frightened,

the raped child

that she is afraid
of ghosts.



We inquire about heaven
as we might
about a nursing home.

Will I get email there?

Will I have insights

and someone
to be pleased with them?

Will that person
be faking it?

Will she be under orders?

Will my words
seem foreign?


“Twee, twee!”
some sound insists.



Fairy tales enchant the cast-off

cut out

of the third person.


You watch the storm
bear down on you
on television.

“I hope I never
have to live
through this


Find Nemo
in the sea

of bodies,
ooze and muscle,

little flick-tail.

            THE MATTER

The remote
is for later,

as I often
tell myself.


Is it possible to speak
of rules
without picturing
the mouth of God?

He said, “You must go

and you should take
the shortcut.”

The angels responded
at once,

as one?

Thus they are known
as messengers -

though they bring
but their gowns.

The rest of us
stand still,


by the hostility
of pronouns

[note.  Armantrout’s most recent book-length publication was Money Shot, published last year by Wesleyan University Press. An earlier collection, Versed (2009), received both a Pulitzer Prize & a National Book Critics Circle Award, while her connection to the most innovative side of American & world poetry remains as strong as ever. Previous postings on Poems & Poetics can be found here & here, as well as Marjorie Perloff’s essay “An Afterword for Rae Armantrout.” (J.R.)]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sam Truitt: Two Poems (Improvisations) from Vertical Elegies 6: Street Mete

tuesday, august 10, 1998

the wells at the mouth of itza

the sun is an orange chasm we are plunging     the jungle a flow a single unifying key     continual earth crying storm     transcription of lightening on water spout     a column of stone     we are ever alone     the jungle's drooling thicket the edge of the clearing left toilet paper purple flowers blue flowers crimson flowers and so i have come to nothing banging a drum     beyond a road divides underground between power failures jerking what the land goes up from    there is a stone angle platforms the earth pushing upward the land grizzled     attitude disappears     the sky disappears     only the door into it remains     a phallus     someone is singing hacking at earth with scythe     scale does not matter     we do not matter     time doesn't matter though all is drawn in it     though everything is yellow flowers     faces shine inwardly building against them     silence is nothing     underground river     do not believe anything     you will die     it is these splinters 10 levels to the sky     where the clouds lie     the stones are teeth       there are no people     no place without a face     strangled in geometry     always the sheath     there is a god at the top of the stairs     there is one level     the stones are not teeth     this is not a mouth     this is not a world it has swallowed     dispersion of trees     a man sits alone under one     a thousand butterflies fling themselves     one stone     one world     one block of ice under the sun 4 interjects     like a knife     already nothing is left to go inside and die inside     feather     ochre sky     truth     ready now where few describe what is incised flame in debris     the shattered abacus     here we felt     place your hand in your mouth     terraces of mass and moss nobody is home to tell us how are you and not to know but be and not to answer the question we are not enough to figure here fiercer than water     space that has no face to say what we feel blood drying some     not to climb but to be climbed     take all the figures out     is this how it is really kind of crooked?      to leave the road in the ruin     you are here     fresh oaks grass roots roofs     pillars     the pillars      years     the years     what is above and what is below     pillars trees time laid on its side     shadows     we have left nothing     hide discus in diamond shape     a god sat here     if we had one thought they have left it     always the face in the sun the disc of     human whistling in the jungle     terror is nothing     the moment observes walls that fill the space between the columns    sky god emerging from the mouth of a serpent higher than they are wide here that dug to live among columns the knotting of the ears alongside the planet venus morning star an offering consisting of the skull of a decapitated man found in the eastern stairwell     this is what we found     we found we could do nothing     a hawk swings above     square pyramid hiding circle of construction     there is a circle outside     guts her whole     roots with no tree     body with no heart     an iguana     rooms    square holes     breathe     jungle     peaked stone     chambers     passages     ways through     to bring it the darkness through you in a chain of syllables      no place without a face     nothing to go through     there is no way out     we must remember who we are     there is no place to stand     jaguar behind steel cage     cannot stay     we cannot leave

march 1999

disorder at the border

—for CH


amid the rain and sunshine the ghoul     bands of light and shadow gather on the wall     considerably the man     come in out of a box     on window sill     but then to come on the hexagonal fort     wet     through the woman in steps taking many times to wipe our feet on the ledge     we are only taking up what was left off     laboring up the hill we have come to     note transitions, patterns of life between neighborhoods     little overlaps start as a point      scroll of smoke     take your foot back and place it     forever pigeons wheel     short breath long breath short     breath short breath short breath     bet against the sunrise and you will lose      colder today shorter     like crushed rock     and the palaces of eternal space     a shout heard in the forest     can there be others or only one     position     periods of ice periods of calm     the earth basks as we hasten through the shower     worst of it over and above us     to take a small problem and dissect it     coming to terms with polyp     red dye along an in-seam     galaxies are being born     something in us     halting in the stairwell to pick up a curious object     in the mirror     forward skimming over the pool     holly began to climb out of her     his cock rested at the lips of her cunt, touched     lifting the heavy metal once     it took 10 seconds to climb the steps of the courthouse     if you remain here i will leave     cool dead woman on a subway train


11 times the wall     periods of funk periods of calm     wrapped in a seal skin down by the river     never look back or ahead     anywhere you can make a connection     return     something to be halting before     like a yo-yo     an afternoon of sunshine     elastic     stacks of cordwood against corrugated fence     dearest cheeky i lighted this whole matchbook for you slumped over the bar looking up the bartender's nose     periods of ice periods of calm     the dream as i just dreamt     lept on a rock set out dancing     i just put what wasn't there there     and nothing is there again     etc.      but how to be really     like a golf pro     cool     in winter to remember puddles     a series of mirrors     the man with his arms vs. his eyes     crossed     in the garden waiting     letter knife inserted in rock     jesus christ! like some animal at the door     broken arm hanging down coughs     the image that he'd seen was still in his mind     a series of mirrors     a man walking the line     i can say anything now     appraise the value of things     of a sky     negate the image     let the kite go     the sky writing     remain     what     “veritable"     to see the writing before the fall     triangular message in the 8-ball floating     up like van gogh

[note.  The work above is part of Truitt’s ongoing project, an exploration of voice & mind in process, walking through different landscapes with voice recorder & camera, to create something akin to what David Antin defined for us as “talk poems.”  The effect & the source for the effect, however, are quite different here, emerging not from memory of time past but as an immediate response to the here-&-now of what surrounds the walking/talking poet/subject.  That work, more complex than what can be shown here, appears in its latest manifestation in the publication by Station Hill of Barrytown, of which Craig Dworkin writes: “Truitt has produced a site-specific poetry triangulated between the transcript of improvised language, snapshots, and the tenuous, tremulous breath of the embodied speaker …”  And Truitt himself: “Explore what the author made of Thoreau’s saying we must be born again to speak what we can write: what it means to fly into that storm a kite.” (J.R.)]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (48): “Lord” Timothy Dexter, from “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones; or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress” (1848)



To mankind at Large the time is Com at Last the grat day of Regoising what is that whye I will tell you thous three kings is Rased Rased you meane shoued know Rased on the first Royel Arch in the worid olmost Not quite but very hiw up upon thay are good mark to be scene so the womans Lik to see the frount and all peopel Loves to see them as the quakers will Com and peape slyly and say houe the doue frind father Jorge washeton is the senter king Addoms at the Rite hand the prssent king at the Left hand father gorge with his hat on the other hats of the middel king with his sword king Addoms with his Cane in a grand poster Adtetoude turning his fass to wards the first king as if thay was on sum politicks king our present king he is stands hearng being yonger and very deafe in short being one grat felosfer Looks well East & west and North & south deafe & very deafe the god of Nater has dun very much for our present king and all our former ones thay are all good I want them to Live for Ever and I beleave thay will it is hard work to be A king --- I say it is harder than tilling the ground I know it is for I find it is hard work to be A Lord I dont desier the sound but to pleas the peopel at Large Let it gou to brak the way it dus for A sort ment to help a good Lafe to Cour the sick spleney goutey dull frames Lik my selfe with the goute and so on make merry a Chealy Christon is for me only to be onnest No matter what thay worshep son monne or stars or there wife or miss if onnest Live for Ever money wont gitt thous figers so fast as I wish I have senc to Leg horn for many mr bourr is one Amonks many others I sent in the grand Crecham thous 3 kings Are plane white Leead colow at present the Royal Arch & figers cost 39 pounds wate silver the hiest Councaton order in the world so it is sade by the knowing ones I have only 4 Lions & 1 Lam up the spread Eagel has bin up 3 years upon the Coupalay I have 13 billors front in strat Row for 13 states when we begun 3 in Rear 15 foot hie 4 more on the grass see 2 the same hath at the Rite of the grand Arch 2 at the left wing 15 foot hie the Arch 17 foot hie the my hous is 3 sorey upwards of 290 feet Round the hous Nater has formed the ground Eaquel to a Solomun the onerbel Jonathan Jackson one of the first in this Country for tast borne a grat man by Nater then the best of Lurning what sot me fored for my plan having so gran spot the hool of the word Cant Excead this to thous that dont know would think I was Like halfe the world a Lier I have traveled good deale but old steady men sayeth it is the first that it is the first best in this Contry & others Contrey I tell you this the trouth that None of you all great men needent be A frunted at my preseadens & I spare Now Cost in the work I have the tempel of Reason in my garding 3 years past with a toume under it on the Eage of the grass see it cost 98 gineys besids the Coffen panted whit in side & out side touched with green Nobel trimings uncommon Lock so I can tak the kee in side and have fier works in the toume pipes & tobacker & A speaking trumpet and a bibel to read & sum good songs

with John Bloomberg-Rissman
source: Timothy Dexter, A Pickle for the Knowing Ones. 4th ed. Newburyport, MA: Blanchard & Sargent, 1848. Page 32. (George Peabody Library)

The merchant Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, MA, self-described lord and philosopher, not only successfully / miraculously sold mittens in the Caribbean and coals to Newcastle, he faked his wife’s death (declaring her from then on a drunken ghost), and he faked his own funeral. In spite of his successes, he was a social outcast of sorts, and considered a “lackwit” by many of his contemporaries, who gave him advice in order to ruin him. Apparently completely unfazed by his failure to gain admittance to Society in spite of his fortune, at age 50 he wrote a book called A Pickle for the Knowing Ones; or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress. The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but no punctuation, and capital letters were seemingly random. At first he handed his book out for free, but it became popular and was re-printed in eight editions. Because people complained about the lack of punctuation Dexter added an extra page of punctuation marks (above). Dexter instructed readers to “peper and solt it as they plese”.
            In the course of doing which he became, while outside any literary nexus as such, a forerunner to many of the experimental workings with spelling, grammar & punctuation of the two centuries that followed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Some Book Publications, Recent, Forthcoming & In-Progress

 For the record I will briefly insert the following list of some of my updated book publications, recently published or now awaiting publication.  A more comprehensive list of books, magazine publications, & interviews between 2009 & 2011 appeared here earlier on Poems and Poetics.

America a Prophecy, with George Quasha, reprinted by Station Hill Press, 2012.

Occasional Gematria, with Ian Tyson, revised version of artist’s book, published by, St Roman de Malegarde, France, 2012; original from Granary Books, 2011.

Paraíso de Poetas [selected poems], translation from Spanish by Heriberto Yépez, Editorial Arte y Literatura, Cuba, scheduled: 2012.

A Cruel Nirvana: The Notebooks / Narratives & Real Theater Pieces / Conversations, SplitLevel Texts, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2012.                                                     

Poland/1931 (“A Book of Writings” & “A Book of Testimony”), translation into French by Jean Portante, Editions Caractères, Paris, scheduled: 2013.
Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, edited with Heriberto Yépez, Black Widow Press, Boston, scheduled: 2013.

Shaking the Pumpkin, reprinted by Station Hill Press, scheduled: 2013.                           

Mistici, hoti si nebuni (Mystics Thieves & Madmen), translation into Romanian by Chris Tanasescu, Casa de Editura Max Blecher, Bucharest, scheduled: 2013.

Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outsider & Subterranean Poetry, with John Bloomberg-Rissman, in preparation.

Of these books, preliminary views of Barbaric Vast & Wild have appeared on Poems and Poetics for several years as a "mini-anthology in-progress of outsider poetry," & I've also posted or plan to post excerpts from America a Prophecy, Shaking the Pumpkin, & Eye of Witness.  The possibility of sharing & to some degree decommodifying our writings is one of the true pleasures of on-line publication -- at least for me.  (J.R.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

John Bloomberg-Rissman: Two Poems from “In the House of the Hangman”

John Bloomberg-Rissman: tattoo with quote from Walter Benjamin

In the House of the Hangman 1107

Trying to relieve the feeling of dead meat in the breast with a swim in the sea, see lots of movie type cartoon Disney Saga, work all the time, do some work to, read about body fluids, writing letters back and forth with proposals on jobs and ideas, type no answer. How do you do? Freak accident is the thing maybe? Give me a penny for your lungs man. Imagine being someone’s butler. Hey. This is Buffy and Leila, Divine and PJ in the back without them knowing about it or agree with, icons should not have to bother. This is going to go so fucking good. Otherwise, we can hold the car. Are you with me? We can hold the car to the north and playing Sheeba, Go betweens and Meat loaf on the askassa stereo. No one can reach us, we ba: generally no. No can dou. No Sir, we can accommodate. That’s a negative sir, we have escaped. We’ve set to work removing the veil of anxious subjectivity and clotted multi-syllables from their writing, to go for a walk and to take nothing (no phone, no iPod, no iPad, nothing) except for a pad and pen. When they saw an image that they would otherwise take a picture of, they were to stop, sit down, and write the image as they saw it. No commentary. The ticket should emerge from the sidewalk not as evidence of “a lonely night,” but as a ratty piece of paper with the numbers 1446-2023. However, putting this into the context of several recent articles about the accelerating pace of “cyber-attacks” on U.S. infrastructure — that is, “the pace at which America’s electricity grids, water supplies, computer and cellphone networks and other infrastructure are coming under attack,” in the words of the New York Times — as well as news that NYC’s elevators and boilers are now seen as potential targets for cyberwarfare (hackers “could increase the speed of how elevators go up or down,” perhaps crashing them to the bottom of the shaft), the idea of garage doors being hacked by radio signals emanating from the ocean by belligerent foreign powers takes on the air of, say, Red Dawn, as remade by Bob Vila. Oh, and that “vanilla” you ate may actually be crushed beaver anal glands – The idea that humans walk in circles is no urban myth. I have no control over my emotions. I don’t know anyone who does. The Dalai Lama, maybe, but I don’t trust him, not since seeing him shake hands with George W. Bush. The challenge in observing them is to overcome the blurring of Earth’s atmosphere. A ‘90s technique called Speckle imaging uses very short exposures to effectively freeze out the atmosphere. With Speckle, the “winning” star was S0-2, which orbits around a central dark mass in 16 years. This proved the existence of a black hole at the galactic center. But S0-2 was the only short-period (<20 years) star revealed. To carry out a fundamental test of general relativity, you need at least two stars with short orbits. Fortunately, since then a revolutionary technology called adaptive optics has arrived. This technique corrects for the effects of the atmosphere in real-time, distorting a mirror in exactly the opposite way that the atmosphere distorts the starlight. This enabled our discovery of S0-102, which takes a mere 11.5 years to orbit.

[Note: Sources: Trying to relieve … we have escaped: Stina Kajaso, “Strypvaffla” (tr. Google), at SONOFDAD, 6 Oct 012; We’ve set to work … from their writing and to go for a walk … 1446-2023: Susan M Schultz, “Documentary Poetry & Being in the World”, at Tinfish Editor’s Blog, 6 Oct 012; However, putting this into the context … Vila: Geoff Manaugh, “Garage Warfare”, at BLDG/BLOG, 6 Oct 012; Oh, and: JBR; that “vanilla” … anal glands --: Melanie Jones/, email rec’d 6 Oct approx. 7:04 PM PDT (concerning some flavoring substance called castoreum); The idea that humans … urban myth: Imp Kerr, “Triple-Decker Weekly, 29”, at The New Inquiry, 6 Oct 012; I have no control … George W. Bush: John Olson, “Not So Sweet Emotions”, at Tillalala Chronicles, 6 Oct 012; The challenge … to orbit: “The Discovery of the shortest period star in the Galactic Center: S0-102: To be published by Science in the October 5, 2012 edition”, at UCLA Galactic Center Group, as seen 6 Oct 012]

6 – 9 October 2012

In the House of the Hangman 1110

Such were the two objects, the shotgun and the tape recorder, that interested the Araweté the most: an instrument that increased the productivity of the hunt, and an ideological apparatus reproduced the singularity of the voice. Production and reproducibility, nature and supernature, eating and singing, animals and gods. Fuck I hate fireworks. The only thing that’s worse than fireworks are real bombs, which is aggravatingly Platonic I know. And then I stared at a tuna slab. That would have been me, skimming the moss. They are Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic and washed up on the beach trying to speak through old film footage, through her diary. The voices begin to speak toward something coherent and abruptly stop: you can’t be a slave, Pa Ubu. You’re far too fat.

My back
pack is

full of dead
bees for you

look at

I remember flying over the southern tip of Greenland, coming back from Iceland. We were on the right side of the plane for the photos and everyone began oohing and aahing at the brightness and the desolation. And I remember thinking if the plane had to crash, it should be right here. Because why? Because the architecture of data storage is inhuman. Servers don’t need daylight, so the spaces are lit by blinking power lights or eery coral-reef-like fluorescence. I mean, most of the time when I watch a Lars von Trier movie I find myself wishing I were watching it on mute. The image has thousands of possible ramifications, and yet the one that was chosen, for the most part, feels like you know how dogs aren’t really smiling, they’re just panting? and they don’t really kiss you, they just lick your face because they like salt? “Zero Sadness”: little kids that walk around looking down / not because they have low self-esteem but / because they’re looking at their cool shoes / light up and or sparkle. Before us is our flesh with the tattooed portents. A spider had somehow attached a web strand to my face and was climbing towards my nose from a pile of workbooks on the desk next to mine. I passed my hand in front of my right cheek and swung her to the floor. Teddy bear with black button eyes and black rubber ears is asleep next to the hand pump disinfectant dispenser. The dictionary is half-black and half-pink. A blue sticker is affixed to the back of the fat, little book. Inside are some drawings on napkins. I wasted in the coffee shop drinking bitter, while she searched for an electronic knuckle in the pickle shop. Flame-flaked paint. Those carpeted bathrooms. That smelly couch. Milk and tea and cookies named after a bodily process. “JULIA JULIA JULIA in my dream we were flying with a murder of crows and then you bit one of those motherf*ckers on the beak for trying to out-fly you.”
[Note: Such were the two … animals and gods: Eduardo Vivieros de Castro, From the Enemy’s Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society (tr. Catherine V Howard); The only thing … Platonic I know and And then and I stared … tuna slab and That would have been … the moss: Brandon Brown, “Fusees 22”, in Flowering Mall; They are Laura … abruptly stop: Drew Kalbach, “‘The sheer number of corpses which pile up’: Drew Kalbach on Laura Mullen’s Murmur”, at Montevidayo, 9 Oct 012; you can’t be a slave … too fat: Alfred Jarry, Slave Ubu (tr. Kenneth McLeish) in Jarry Ubu; My back
pack … look at them!
: Russ Woods, “Bees”, at have u seen my whale 4; I remember flying … right here: William Keckler, “Greenland”, at Joe Brainard’s Pyjamas (The Sequel), 9 Sept 012; Because why? Because: JBR; the architecture … fluorescence: Kyle Chayka, “The Aesthetics of Data Storage”, at Hyperallergic, 9 Sept 012; I mean: JBR; most of the time … feels: Blake Butler, “I Don’t Want To Read Any More Books About Straight White People Having Sex”, at Vice, 9 Oct 012; like: JBR; you know how dogs … they like salt?: Heiko Julién, I Am Ready To Die A Violent Death, at scribd; “Zero Sadness … light up and or sparkle: Ana Carrete, “Zero Sadness”, at my name is mud; Before us … pickle shop and Flame-flaked paint … bodily process: Adam Avikainen, “Ginger Glacier”, at Taipei Biennial 2012; “JULIA JULIA JULIA … out-fly you”: anonymous, as quoted in Julia Cohen, “Harmonics like a Deconstructed River Press”, at $650 Apartment for $650, 9 Oct 012]

9 October 2012

NOTE.  The preceding are two further installments from Bloomberg-Rissman’s epic assemblage, “an ongoing project called Zeitgeist Spam,” consisting of multiple “panels” with titles like “Altarpiece to our Beauty and Insanity” & “No Sounds of My Own Making.”  While each panel has its own set of compositional constraints, he tells us, “they all involve appropriating/ sampling/ collaging/ assembling/ mangling other texts.”  An earlier entry on Poems and Poetics appeared here in 2011.  A prolific writer and researcher, Bloomberg-Rissman is currently working with me on Barbaric, Vast & Wild, a global/historical gathering of outsider & subterranean poetry, now in progress.  (J.R.]

Monday, November 12, 2012

Murat Nemet-Nejat: From “Questions of Accent” (What Is Then Accented Writing?)

[note.  The following was originally published in The Exquisite Corpse in 1993 & again in Thus Spake The Corpse (An Exquisite Corpse Reader, 1988-1999).  Brought into the present context its central argument – as presented here – has much to say about the nature of language & identity beyond more orthodox ideas of nativism & foreignness.  The emphasis on American & Jewish writings rhymes as well with matters of concern to the present editor & touched on from different perspectives in previous postings on Poems and Poetics.  It is also an acknowledgement of the role played by major figures in our recent poetry & literature who have come into English writing as a second or even a third language, but in the extract cited here goes well beyond that.  A complete version of Nemet-Nejat’s once controversial essay can be found elsewhere on the web. (J.R.)]

I speak no language like a native. Though I have lived in the States since 1959, my accent still sounds foreign. I was born in Turkey, but I am not Turkish. I am Jewish. In the fifties most Jews in Turkey were Sephardim and spoke Ladino Spanish. But I am not  a Sephardi; I am a Persian Jew. My parents had moved to Istanbul on business, and I was born there in a Jewish neighborhood. But I learnt no Ladino, barely understood it. Jewish kids in the neighborhood thought I was Moslem, an outsider. At home, my parents spoke Persian with each other, which also I barely understood. Brothers among ourselves spoke Turkish. My mother spoke in an immigrant's broken Turkish to me (my father barely spoke to me at all). Turkish became my mother tongue. I spoke Turkish in the street. I was, linguistically, most comfortable with other Turks, who mostly despised Jews. My speech became almost Turkish. Loving a language not completely my own was my first act as a Jew. And, despite my almost accentless speech, my first act of rebellion was to tell my Turkish friends I was not one of them. I was a Jew.

What Is Then Accented Writing?

    What is, then, writing which has an accent? It is a writing which does not completely identify with the power, authority of the language it uses; but confronts, without glossing over, the gap between the user and the language. Such writing reveals an ambiguity towards power: the writer chooses to embrace a language (because of its pervasive centrality) which he/she knows is not quite his/her own, is insufficient for his/her inner purposes. Accent in writing has little to do with explicit theme or semantic context; it rather has to do with texture, structure, the scratches, distortions, painful gaps (in rhythms, syntax, diction, etc.) caused by the alien relationship between the writer and his/her adopted language. Accent is cracks (many unconscious, the way a speaker is unaware of his or her accent when speaking, does not have to create it ) on the transparent surface.

   Accented Jewish writing embodies, rather than erases, this ambiguity towards power. By doing that it creates its accent. Kafka, to me, is the first modern, European writer who reveals the Jew's ambiguity towards power in terms of an accent in the texture of his language. His language of choice as a writer is not Yiddish or Czech but legal German (that of an intricate legal brief), a double embrace of power: first of the cultural mainstream, second, that section of it which codifies its power. But Kafka's accent subverts that legal code, divests it of its meaning, turns the language of the powerful into a language of the victim, of alienation. To me, Kafka's subject is a stylistic dialogue about the ambiguity of power, between the powerful and the victim, a sadomasochistic elaboration of the Book of Job, the chosen man of God also chosen as a victim. Interestingly, Kafka's fiction (as opposed to his diaries) has very few direct references to Jews, almost no semantic, but only stylistic, Jewish content.

The Essence of American Sound, Can It Be the Music of Diaspora?

    Why did Kafka write Amerika, why was he attracted to the subject of the United States? German also accents Am-erika. What did he hear in the word Oklahoma? A wild, alien, distant sound in German, Oklahoma!  At the same time, an intimate sound, one of the rare words in English with vowel harmony, which is also, I imagine, in Czech. Kafka hears in Oklahoma the alien ground in which his private soul can nest itself, the synthesis between the powerful and the victim. That is why he associates his open-ended, endless nirvana of liberation in the Theater (Noah's Ark) of Oklahoma. What is the word Oklahoma after all, but the imprint of the Native American, the victim, the invaded in the language of the master. American English: the language which embodies that  peculiar combination, victim and victor possessing the same language, yoked together by fate.

   Using American English as a poet is the outsider, the victim, embracing, emulating the language of the master, being constantly beset by the ambiguities of power.

American Poetry, The Poetics of Accents

    What makes this poetry different from others, from French, from English? Here lies its radical ambiguity: American English, as a poetic language, is not a mother tongue in the usual sense but a pseudo-mother, step-mother tongue. It can have no tradition, its vocabulary no public or mythical, only personal, private resonances. It is the language of pervasive power, without resonance, of authority in which the immigrant, the victim must speak. Writing poetry in American English is a continuous act of translating from a radical inside or from a radical beyond. Its well of inspiration is always outside, never in the mining or contributing to the flowerings of a tradition. The reading and the writing of American poetry must always be discontinuous. Accepting a central, authoritative tradition undercuts its balance of power and victimhood. 

   Even to the powerful, American English is unstable, its power ambiguous. When the Puritan, for example, spoke English, the Puritan saw himself/herself threatened by the geographic and moral wilderness around, which even destabilized the inner certitudes. His/her language is defensive, doubting its ability to embrace, cope with the darkness beyond the ring of light, the ring of reason.

   That alienation, instability between writer and language, a radical skepticism about its ability to reveal inner truth constitute its essential nature. The relation of the poet to the language is inescapably confrontational. American English is the quintessential unnatural, insufficient, weak language which the writer has to bend, distort, to translate into, to interject his or her vision. To me, three nineteenth century writers, none of them Jewish but white protestant, embody this accented writing: Hawthorne, Melville and Dickinson. Hawthorne's Puritan English prose is tortured, twisted to assimilate both the wilderness beyond on the continent and the wilderness within. (Read the first pages of House Of The Seven Gables; it is Henry James at his purest. All of Henry James and more is in it.) Melville's compulsive, encyclopedic lists of whaling lore crack up, can not contain the nihilism at the core and must spill into splintered moments of black vision which masquerade as narrative. Dickinson invents a language which only pretends to be English and must be read over and over again to be stripped into its message, a violent sadomasochism. Words are private emblems, the syntax unstable, constantly shifting, not quite an "English" syntax, the smooth "hymnal" surface hiding, shafted with a sadomasochistic violence.  All these works are written by writers, though white Christians,  for whom the given language is not really their own, not really their "natural," mother tongue.

   Contemporary Jewish writing, embodying the ambiguous relationship to power, is therefore a specific example of American writing. Emily Dickinson, the Protestant spinster completely at home at Amherst but completely out of it, is to me the American poet, the Jew, the sister/neighbor in exile, whose enigmatic, excessive, possessive, distant, recalcitrant company I can take only a few poems at a time.

To Be a Poet Or Reader of Uncanonizable Poetics

    American poetics is asocial, therefore, uncanonizable. I am not talking about changing the canon, therefore creating a new structure of power; discontinuous means uncanonizable. I must apply the principle of quantum mechanics here. The moment a style or a poet is canonized, therefore gaining a privileged mainstream position, the language written in that style loses the tension between power and victimhood and stops being American. Writing poetry in American English is not a trade or guild activity to be taught at special schools or communities (while making movies or TV shows is), but an act of personal survival.

   Reading American poets is essentially following a series of distinct, discontinuous personal strategies in language. Tradition in the European sense is an illusion in American poetry. Even the "newest" French or English writer writes with a hope of one day becoming a "classic." Thinking of the future, or even in the traditional sense of the past, thinking of a continuity, are ruinous for an American poet or critic. Therefore, Jabès and Derrida, masters of academic style, tools to create a new canon, have no relevance to an American poet unless as abject objects to be attacked.

   Harold Bloom's paradigm of anxiety of influence, the poet struggling with his linguistic father-predecessor, is wrong. With the possible exception of Allen Ginsberg and Whitman, I know no American poet who has created truly original work as a "flowering" of a previous poet. In a radical sense, Dickinson, Hawthorne, Melville, Stein, Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Creeley, Ashbery have no American beginnings or ends. The contemporary attempt to create a new canon  around, for example, the figures of Mary Rowlandson, Jonathan Edwards, Dickinson and Stein is to misunderstand their work. The accents (in Susan Howe's word, "hesitations,") in Dickinson's, or any other poet's writing, are unreproduceable, completely idiosyncratic. To think that Stein's repetitions or Ashbery's mellifluously expansive meditations are linguistic tools bequeathed to later poets in terms of a "flowering poetic tradition" is wrong-headed. In American poets these are outside trappings of idiosyncratic, personal solutions, accents, that can be completely ignored by and are only marginally useful to another poet. What unifies the poets is their unchanging, confrontational, aggressive relationship to their language. None of them is writing in his or her mother tongue and must therefore distort, accent it to make it his/her own.

Accented Relationships Among Poets: Is There No Influence Then?

    Creeley calls Zukofsky "the teacher of all of us," but Creeley does not imitate or expand on Zukofsky's poetic style. He undercuts it by creating hesitations, weaknesses (accents) in its architecture. Creeley mishears Zukofsky's reading of his own poems by "hearing" stops at his line breaks. To do that to a Zukofsky poem (to a lyric like "Songs Of Degrees"), in essence, is to demolish (to add excessive stops to) its sound architecture. But vocal hesitations at line ends (independent of syntax) is the core of Creeley's poetic sound, the power of its vulnerable intimacy. In essence, Creeley's relation to Zukofsky is confrontational, accented. What he learns from Zukofsky is, I think, to turn the language he is born to, English, into an alien, slightly abstract structure of sound he can crack, poke into. What he learns from Zukofsky,  is American English.

   Zukofsky, a foreigner, teaches Creeley, the Puritan, English as a foreign language, a structure of power Creeley does not completely own. At his most original Creeley subverts Zukofsky's powerful architecture of sound to interject his weaknesses, hesitations. For Creeley Zukofsky is the alien, the outside which softens the smug nastiness, the male chauvinism of the early poems in For Love. It brings them ambiguity, restraint, by turning their power driven misogyny inward, into a language of vulnerability and pathos.

The Music of the Victim Is the Language of the Unnamed

    In American poetry the father (tradition) and the mother tongue (the language of intimate and evocative words) are split. This confrontation makes the American poem an attack into the unsayable (socially and spiritually). To evoke what is unnamed is, always, to evoke what is not in the physical body of the language, in its material music. The language of weakness, of the unnamed, must have a Puritanical bias, "Thou shalt not worship graven words." The poet's instinctive love for words, their physicality, is suspect, must be restrained.

   The music of words (of their plasticity) is tradition. The music between words is the language of the outside, the unnamable. That's why Zukofsky, whom Creeley calls the poet with the perfect ear, can be, maybe must be, tone deaf. That's why Dickinson, the supreme American poet, has so few quotable, physically luscious lines. American poem is anti-musical, can not preen its physical achievement like a peacock. Once again, Whitman sticks out against my theories like a sore thumb.

   The American poem (and poet) is always trapped in the space between words, in the crack between his/her vision and the language he/she is using, in the discontinuity (as opposed to cultural unity) between the self and his/her language. His/her soul belongs to somewhere else. That is why if he/she is influenced by another poet, that poet is almost always from another language, French, Indian, Turkish, German, Spanish, Japanese, etc. Or, more often, the mother lode of influence is another medium, cubism or abstractionism in painting, Jazz, photography, movies, TV, etc. American poems are continuous acts of translations from another language or medium or both. In this process, the languages of origin (Chinese, French, Vietnamese, Turkish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, etc.) or aesthetic philosophies are not hierarchical, canonical, but coexist on the same level. No language is superior over another language. Surrealism is no more relevant than Sufism, deconstructionism or anthropology than Zen, glyphs than photographs, the poets Yunus Emre, Zbigniew Herbert, Xavier Villaurrutia than Arthur Rimbaud.

   As I said, American English is neutral with no personal, cultural associations. No more is this more clear than in Emily Dickinson. What do sun, father, Hunter, He, God, etc. (all images of authority) mean in her work? Nothing. They are essentially blank emblems, a chain of Moby Dicks, completely stripped of their traditional associations, around which the poet weaves her barely decipherable soul. Under the deceptive music of a hymn, of a little embroidering lady, the blankness of these crucial images liberates/unhinges the syntax in the poems, completely privatizes it. What is Moby Dick after all? An attack on whiteness, an asocial, self-destructive pursuit of the unnamable, which all the lists, all the encyclopedias, all the charts, all the lore of the country can not name. Call me Ishmael, the poet, who (I) must a tale unfold/ Whose lightest word... I am thy father. ... Seems, madam? No it's. I have that within me which passeth show. ... Others trappings and suits of woe …”                                                                                                                           
    The unnamable, ineffable, the radically inner implicate, require, fate, a confrontation with the father tongue. The music is in the ensuing unhinging.