Friday, October 31, 2008
Out of a migraine nightmare he wheeled
clunking mathematical equipment for an
equipage of clunking mathematical dunces
howling to mitigate denial “I find
what you have to say convincing”
with outrage and incredulity “but
am not asking to be convinced.” Lard
dripped from the ceiling through the floor
of the butcher’s shop upstairs; our den
was getting hazardous, bordering on the
uninhabitable but we were loath to give
it up, not now, not now the breath
stopping, stinking cold was heaped up
at our and everyone’s knocking shop door.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
opening doorways under hypnotic suggestion
as cool as visiting Times Square or the ring of tenderness
dark as erotic epics
irreverent as crushed beetles
here the mouse more cracked up to be precious
timed one minute farther than the step it’d take
the unobserved packed onto the cityscapes
tale as Oppenesque as what is left
what she did not say when invited to speak
those words might have been the second’s blink
between the fleck of one or the next iris-shadow
translucent skin sifted under Sappho’s come-hither
I demonstrate the separation of parts like ribs careful
termites under eaves because I do my understanding
underproven to do this as in step down hard
the skeletal crush would not be as simple a sound
this glass candy breaking
expose between the twelve palms of each the number
eventful fittings of copper dream this
that barren plexiglass universe you press against
look down 15 flights he thinks the trail is still
maybe this is the time in your hand-held air give over
wake to breath to bombarding Cyclops beyond
windowpane that skyscraper this collapsing gunfight
skip the fits the phaser start over with a new list of nots
this rung is not so keen so capable of holding its own
my weight cascading under scythes
Sunday, October 26, 2008
- & dedicated to A. Grossman
To the extent that rain is its own Metropolis,
A guard stands at the iron drawbridge of the palace.
Once he crosses, we've got no luck of crossing into it.
For Galileo said:
"Rain can't ever,
A certain voice hearing, overtake running
And greet its brethren walking."
Our windows here climb upward to the past,
Going back forever. Our windows are lit
From the upward rushing future.
The stars at night we call
"The Streetlights of Tomorrow".
One day our ancestors shall greet us,
Rushing strongly upward to see us.
Say the old faith:
"I believe in Universe without Void,
In the Plenum, in the Vertical lacking Emptiness,
Filled with Touch among its Creatures."
Say the new faith:
"I believe in the rain mass in the chest
The city's yellowing words,
thin lessons through today’s
rain shutter. What was
propped against the doorstop
recording the minutes’
Numbers drawn over expanses,
Touch original as wax regrets,
or our shadow self fluctuating
between just decisions and
To wonder, or to know
beneath the eaves,
whether this angle of language
is the way.
The city yellowed by scenes
of familiar words
caught up, released back
into contusions or timetables.
Pinpoint the tint of what is still.
Extensive processes at work,
undermining the organic flow
of subject-object. Correlations:
our hand can range over
surfaces, plate glass, metallic,
ticking as if to measure or show
the game’s innards
Anything that might get us here,
as this schematic of land, that graphed
dot in time, the syllable
a sine wave sound
emitted from one voice out
into the expanse of browned
pages, this library’s outdated
timecards. Punch in, left to
go farther, as in song, a
as silver fibers under night’s stethoscope.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Perhaps history taught us
to mention the day’s
too thin. The rain
stops propped against
recording the minutes, the passage
of numbers and circles.
We are drawing over expanses,
Regret only the shadow.
Touch the original like wax
after midnight’s fluctuating.
between just and simple wondering
and knowing whether
the angled luck of language
is the way.
Did it sure consult? Sure it did.
The city's yellowing scenes
already catching familiar words
are timetables of confusion
pinpointing the tint
of what is still an extensive process at work.
Organic, your hand can range
over the subject, showing how
even a game
might get us there.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
We Hide in The Night
We hide in the night
opening doorways hypnotic
wearing Times Square
& the ring of tenderness
erotic and epic
irreverent and minute
crushed and transparent,
My Understanding: A Partial List
we hide the night
wearing the ring of tenderness
befallen on observed cities-
erotic and epic
irreverent and minute
crushed and transparent,
of course Sappho
of course garage punk
of course Frank O’hara
of course punk neon kids
I say of course
because I do.
careful separation of parts
by a skyscraper acrobat
in Times Square
of the twelve palms.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
In a clammy bar smelling of horseraces across from a man
nothing on his hands maybe time in his somehow woke-up air
can’t put my finger on those empty hands
an undetermined quality worth staking something on
my thumb upon a bright bet
another ghost to pin down simply
hand my thumbs upon
(an exercise in filtering and revision)
hide the woods
A path (arterial)
to or from.
stillbirths to negate
She does not write
of the poem as.
To place to this beep.
a planetary structure
by means of language.
The Southern city?
Monday, October 6, 2008
Lee Ann Brown is a voracious art involver. By this I mean that her work has always been informed by her very active involvement in arts communities including film, theater, literature and just about anything else you can imagine. She has a wide curiosity, a generous ear and a unique and authentically singular interest in everything. The nature of my understanding of Lee Ann Brown’s work is as a peer and collaborator and as witness to her terrific instigation and enthusiasm for art happenings in which I’ve often had the pleasure to take part. The last time I arrived in New York we went immediately to (here’s a partial list) a trapeze extravaganza performed by an acrobat/poet. A psychedelic yogic projection dance party. A punk neon kids violin performance topped off with a concert, a high rise burrito as art feast simultaneous with Times square filmic productions of the guests. There is never one project or one agenda. There is no day without twelve plans. This is the somewhat hypnotic universe in which Brown dwells. Peopled with uncommon beauty and exquisite surprise.
Her work is informed by a variety of sources- including New York School, Beats, Language Poetry, (all of course rooted in a New York and San Francisco bi-coastal urban sensibility) and also her North Carolina roots. One reason that her work is unique is that she radiates from all of these possibilities and others. Her lineage isn’t singular. It’s Bernadette Mayer and Emily Dickinson, but also Whitman and Brainard and Elmslie, the film maker Nick Dorsky, and the playwright Richard Foreman. She is of hymns, of Allen Ginsberg and Japanese tea ceremonies (she was born in Japan). Appalachian ballads and garage punk. Frank O’Hara and of course Saapho.
I say of course because it is in her nature to be various, many places at once. She is both Steinian and traditional, irreverent and classic, proper and erotic, epic and minute.
A brief history of her so far illustrious career includes: a long history as an arts community organizer through the Poetry Project in New York city, where she curated the Monday night series, founder and editor of the press Tender Buttons (a la Gertrude Stein) which has published about one dozen titles including: Bernadette Mayer, Rosmarie Waldrop, Ann Waldman, Dodie Bellamy, Harryette Mullen, and myself among others. Her first book, Polyverse, won a New American Poetry Series Award, chosen by Charles Bernstein, published by Sun and Moon Books in 1999. And prior to that her work was greatly circulated by means of oral publication. She is terrifically known as a wonderful performer of her works which at times includes singing. She is also known for her work as poet-in-the-schools through Teachers and Writers Collaborative in NYC, both as a teacher and a writer of articles on the curriculum she has developed for teaching imaginative writing to young children.. Very recently she co-founded a new project for multidisciplinary poetry and performance, the French Broad Institute of Time and the River in Marshall, North Carolina. She is currently professor of English at St. John’s University in NYC.
It is important to note that no book by Lee Ann Brown is simply a single book. She tends to write big books which are equal to three or four books by most poets. This is true in terms of length, depth and arrangement. For instance, Polyverse is 186 pages, divided into three sections: Her Hearsay Hymnbook, Velocity City, and A Little Resistance. Each of which could be a stand alone book. And yet what we are presented with in her sweeping generative texts is a careful orchestration of parts which demonstrate a great continuity and range. The poems are relational- speaking to each other on and off of the page—just one aspect of her highly collaborative sensibility. Poet Jordan Davis writes on the arrangement of her books: “So many recent books of poems are interrupted every twenty pages by a Roman numeral, the same styles and subjects picking up where they left off — intermissions disguised as changes. . . Brown, on the other hand organizes her uncommonly long books into sections that differ from each other the way rings in a circus do: present beau hymns to the muses go here next to the N+7 operations on familiar allegiance texts, precisely observed miniatures hover in this corner, Steinian meditations make frequent flagrant rendezvous with the recognizable vulnerable world here at the end. No Roman numerals.”
A few qualities of this first book: Patrick Prichtet writes “Above all “polyverse” suggests Oppen’s “being numerous” his “shipwreck of the singular” The destruction of the monolithic and ceaselessly self-aggrandizing subject, its narcissistic craving for experience and epiphany opens the possibility for a radically new poetics.”
Poet Elaine Equi writes: “Pleasure is the subject of Lee Ann Brown's poetry. Pleasure in the craft and anti-craft of poem making. Pleasure in the vocalizing and harmonizing of voice and text--speech and writing. Giddy recombinings. Flirtatious collaborations. Irreverent anagrams. To paraphrase Lee Ann's version of her own poetic genealogy: enthusiasm is the mother ("We are the daughters of enthusiasm"), excitement the sister ("Where are my excitement sisters").” Elaine Equi
Here is a section the poem from which Equi quotes:
section 3 from “Crush”
We are the daughters of enthusiasm.
With tenderness and dancing.
With late night storming.
Where are my excitement sisters.
At work they are all at work.
We want to talk late into the night.
We want to play tenderly with boys also.
To sleep and work on our non-paying work,
We try to unite our rent power tryst.
It is seldom these days that we meet.
Assiduous angles in a latin position.
We hide in the woods to remember
the simultaneous noise of the city,
wearing the ring of the city.
Did you expect southern butter.
Our rented reality is a problem.
Trillium and lady slipper.
Lady Slipper is married to Jack-in-the-Pulpit
Mayapple is a name to remember.
From my own review of Polyverse, “She does not deny the narrative, but creates the “extra-narrative,” specific locations intimate interiors which insist upon their own dimensions. Her poem “Crush” ends with the statement: “I say these things not because they happen, but because many things happen.” Thus she does not deny the present, nor the recording of events, but she does negate the notion that the poem is merely an accumulation of recollections. She writes:
I believe in the alteration
of the planetary structure
by means of language
at every level of its register
from the phonemical
to that of discourse
Her second full-length collection, The Sleep That Changed Everything, was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2003.
This book is in part a re-visioning and re-versioning of hymns and ballads as source material for writing and performance. Her presentation of this work culminates in “13th Sunday In Ordinary Time” a song cycle performed by five women including Brown, and directed by her husband, the actor Tony Torn.
This 175 page book is divided into five sections: “Insufflation,” “Estivation,” “Vibratory Odes,” “Devastation,” and “Inflorescence. The book begins with a list in memoriam, including family and poetic allegiances. As per usual she writes in many forms including acrostic, ode, hymn, ballad, sonnet, list, personal add, epistle, lament, elegy, homophonic translation, dictionary entry, etc. For any poet who ever wanted a magic spellbook of possible forms to consider hers is a must-read compendium—very openly offered with unobtrusive notes at the end providing further insights into possible poetic excursions.
On the ballad form, Brown writes:
“Immensely flexible and with a very long history, the ballad has been one of the backbones (and the source forms) for innovative, hybrid American art since the time of the first European settlers.
“The ballad is, quite simply, the link between the written and the sung: it is the vehicle for children’s songs, hymns, lullabies, political anthems, folk songs, heavy metal “power ballads,” sweeping love ballads, movie soundtracks themes, and nearly every type of popular song.”
And I’d like to suggest that Brown leaves non of these forms untried.
Brown writes: “These collective human experiences, these stories, are what make ballads. I view the ballad as the ultimate field (or form) for truth-telling through appropriation.”
And as to her sources for appropriation, to name a few, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, Helen Adam (a contemporary of Spicer, Jess and Duncan, a poet and artist, whose work was only recently just brought back into print by the poet Kristen Prevallet in the book: A Helen Adam Reader (National Poetry Foundation), Emily Dickinson and Will Oldham.
She writes: “We can take cues from folk ballads as stitcher of tissues of quotes from the larger culture.”
This second book represents quite a range in terms of subject content- from erotic to violent. From Epilthalaleums to cruel mother ballads. (I won’t read any of these now as I’ll play some recordings at the end of this talk_
Brown writes: “There is an extensive process at work behind the creation of a folk ballad, which I liken to the organic way in which new words are added to the dictionary. But I believe in our power as wordsmiths, as poet folk to create new words that will “take” new songs that will be sung and used and memorized and give up to be changed, the first whispers (or growls) in a cosmic game of Telephone”
Certainly Brown has created new words and new meanings for familiar words, (consider her poem “thang” a list poem of locations for coupling), new ways to recite the alphabet (as in her witch alphabet poem in Polyverse), new songs, as in the layered new versions of hymns and ballads which allow the light from original composition to radiate through her own pastiche of cultural references.
I wanted to say a word also about Brown as a collaborator. In her first book Polyverse is an entire section, “Colabs” written with poets such as Mayer, Moxley, Jarnot, Weiner and others. One project in which she has been involved is the 3:15 project- which began in 1993 by poets Dinsmore and Mayer and then opened more widely with a 1999 panel at the Naropa Institute in which Brown, along with Bernadette Mayer, Jen Hofer and Danika Dinsmore spoke about the project. For anyone unfamiliar with the project, participants, during the month of August, set their alarms for 3:15 am and wake up and write in a somewhat not quite awake state. According to Albert Flynn De Silva, publisher of Owl Books first anthology from the 3:15 experiment, “The topics of their panel included time, consciousness (altered), collaboration, community, and ritual. I wanted to know, hear, read, more. As it turned out they were planning to open the experiment up to whoever wanted to participate, and were passing around a sign-up sheet. I excitedly signed my name away for the following August when the experiment would begin again.” (For anyone interested you can go to 3:15 exp.com). This project exudes the type of communal collaborative visioning in her work. Here’s an excerpt from one of her 3:15 poems, published in the more recent anthology, between sleeps, the 3:15 experiment 1993-2005:
missing or skipping
something that’s supposed to
happen in a house just
_________ with my lamps and beds
“scared the living daylights
out of me”
I stood on the platform
feeling the slightest
turn-on as the
mechanical hum of
the subway & the way
people were moving
vibrated ever so
in my being
all different kinds of people
One of her current works in progress is a book exploring the history lore and terrain (literary, geographical and otherwise) of North Carolina. Another is a book called Philtre, Writing in the Dark, 1987-2007, forthcoming from Atelos books. This project has as a unifying concept the practice of “Writing During” meaning that each of the included texts was written during attendance at cultural events, including poetry readings, film, and a variety of other performances. Another form of collaboration. She begins with a quotation from Whitman: “You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.” Here is an excerpt from that work, written during a poetry reading by Phillip Lamantia, at Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles, February 26th, 1999.
“I buy ectoplasmic peanutbutter”
Anecdotal surrealist tonic
inside psychedelic Luxor hot dog stand
Star burst — not many left
hand in pocket
“great big fairy head”
“this paper writes me”
when we scribe the big ode
a red-faced cormorant
will shift encyclopedariums
clear-cut avataristic to
Where is Topsy?
In the bed of the Sphinxes?
I’d like to invite all of you to take Brown’s concept of writing “during” while listening to a recording from 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time- recorded at the Bowery Poetry Club. A recording of this performance can be found at:
While you are listening you might attempt some of Brown’s Ballad experiments:
1. Make a list of misheard song lyrics and choose the best one for the title.
2. Experiment with appropriation and collage. Note down words and phrases from signs, overheard conversation, or the tabloids, and put them in a ballad form. Then sing it!
Brown, Lee Ann Polyverse
Brown, Lee Ann, The Sleep That Changed Everything
Brown, Lee Ann, Buffalo Stance, from Writing from the New Coast, Oblek 12.
Brown, Lee Ann, “The Literary Anatomy: Teaching the Ballad— New Songs to Old Airs.” Teachers and Writers Collaborative Newsletter.
Browne, Laynie, review of Polyverse, Rhizome 2.1998
Jordan Davis: http://ww.constantcritic.com/jordan_davis/the_sleep_that_changed_...
Dinsmore, Danika and Gwendolyn Alley, Editors, between sleeps: the 3:15 experiment 1993-2005, en theos Press 2006
Elaine Equi, Boston Review, http://bostonreview.net/BR23.5/Equi.html
Patrick Pritchet, Jacket Magazine http://www.jacketmagazine.com/08/prit-rbrown.html
the word falls, light
as a feather, tumbling
like a river stone
the likelihood of this
moment is almost nothing
but your hand won't
let me doubt
celebrate the minor rituals; try,
when life lives in symbol but wants
to move in this world
is to dream on every
makes a home among the scenes
a shoulder holds more verses
than a jot could ever glean
somewhere a shot
somewhere a flap of wings
exceptional and miraculous:
being together, under
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
Owing to What I’ve got like any good person,
Make haste. Owing to,
A great deal outward the dessicated field
Holding its own ribs,
And an irrigation trench under
A sodium light and dynamo.
Autumn weather brings
A great gift of concern for
The undying shades, which,
Being pixelated, are rising up
Into common bodies, persons,
And flickering there, like
All things that wait around, like
A television screen without
The television, and in the shape
Of a leaf-like tongue of flame.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
the year has ended
or begins again
under a raven’s stark screech.
across the earth
so many worlds harden
into our own. my eyes close
then wake again to grey
morning, which comes
exceptionally to this town
like a man making his way
home after a long journey
only to find the address changed
the kids, the wife, the dog
have moved on. my own light
slips me away, dressed in the
unfamiliar garb of one too many
I slink past the backyard,
my leafless tree,
a buried garden.
I would call out, call back
exceptionally to someone
but I am caught crackling
in the fire of our extinguishing world,
in this exceptionally bright wave
for time. of white cement under
the cobalt sky
only this speakerphone remains.