Celebratory Reading: Bob Glück and Aaron Shurin

What now feels like waaaay back in December, on the 17th--

[strange and disturbing how the election and all that has ensued since has changed my sense of time-- a terrible nightmare simultaneously on slo-mo and fast-forward happening right now]

--I had the pleasure of attending the Small Press Traffic event celebrating the 70th birthdays and recent essay collections of two of the Bay Area's creative anchors-Bob Glück and Aaron Shurin. Bob's Communal Nude: Collected Essays is recently out from Semiotext(e) and Aaron's The Skin of Meaning: Collected Literary Essays and Talks from the University of Michigan Press.

Bob & Aaron, photo courtesy of Kevin Killian

So, here is to the critical, creative, capacious thinking that might sustain us, provide pleasure, enable us to be, as Norma Cole put it when I saw her at Mary Burger and Truong Tran's art show some weeks ago--tenacious.

The first piece is from one of Bob's current projects:

excerpt from I Boombox

Note: this is an excerpt from a long poem, I Boombox.  The poem is assembled from my misreading’s.  In that sense, it’s an autobiography in which I dream on the page. It’s my version of the modernist long poem, published in sections and only interrupted by the author’s death.

My car likes to
Sleep on my favorite
Chair, the ominous
And elevated
Streetcar.  Important
Cheeses, it goes
Right through my Vino. 
Masked and distinguished,
Groaning with
Escaping to the
Shades below, composer’s
Love transforms as
A dramatic
Theme, the first to
Flatter a paper
Flower behind
Her ear.  The corruption
Here is for buyers. 

Orphan nation,
Groaning with
Escaping to
The shades below
To make skeletons
Of the physically
Unfit.  Pre-emptive
Word on Cher, who
Can be happy
Only when she’s
Abstract. What I
Have been Waiting
For, something
Torn from a photograph
Ben saw brazenly,
Lending his attraction
To the boys across
The street and pressured
Them into his
Book.  Eclipsed cultivar
Of genius departing
For religions
Unknown.  Said he
Had been undercut
On a red-eye. 
Destructive logic
And inspired guess-
Work, the official
Interrupted sky. 

I had just praised
His bowels!  The first
Known in something
Like its eternity
From Sicily
To Somber.  I
Flashed an impressive
Smile at pouty
Four-inch heels.  One

Day neglecting
The next, the writing
Banged out the
Born to a
Family, she
Stood on her head
Cocked to one side.
Beef encounter,
Her face lived in
To unrape me.

The water has
Taken seven
Lives from me yet
We moor on your
Shoes because contagion
Is not easy.
A dreamer bests
Himself again
And break the back
Of paper. He
Had been spreading
Humans onto
Pita.  In less
Than a mouth he’d
Be totally
Gone, a miserable
Grocery bag. 
Bronze frog that sits
On a throne Lillypad,
Called bride because
It squeaked with the
Slightest move. 
Is a vice.

Corporate poetry
Month forms a kind
Of obstacle
Discourse. The system
Eats the continent
Until all that’s
Left is the system.
Their politeness
Is asking for
A castration,
Mein hand stroking
Flint shattered by
An art teacher,
the broken porn
Night.  Redevelop
The linebreak.  I
Revise only
In the cemetery
But the reflections
Of my voice mouths
Of pre-trial
Dentation to
The Kidney Korner,
Mission and
A grin woman
With a world view,
She tolerates
Little devotion
And also a
Campy Impresario.
His immature
Camaro was
Used in ritual
Dreams.  I enjoyed
The Eucharist.
They planted grapes
In better suites.
The building lava-
Lamp parsley
Prefers stale
Over substance. 
Wattlewood trees
Came up with, “Hi.”
I would have killed
To spend my life
With him.  I’m a
Deathalete.  The
Rage of European
The scared geometry,
An iconic bridge
And its pedophile,
Or a block of
French lightning laughing
As it destroys
The dirt with a
Crest and back like
An old brick wall.
Sensory Hall
In Tokyo.
Drowning vipers
Go side to side,
Plastic Fantastic
Foreskin formed a
Parsnip with Mikhail
In which he repeats
Jeanette’s diary:
If Time Seems Personal. 
Moon, the great loss
They troll Bloomingdale’s. 
The affected
Elegant tilt
Of their voices.
Matriarch, Inc.
Shooting up at
The beach after
The artists, dealers,
Critics, and hedge-
Fund guys jerked off
Last weekend.  “Neo
Raunch’s next move
Would feel it tugging
At its chin, protesting
With nervous
My force slips and
Goes funny.

                             --Robert Glück

And here's an excerpt from Aaron's essay "Prosody Now." As soon as I heard about Aaron's prosody class at USF, I wish I might have been a student there and could have taken it! The essay is as close as I will get.

from "Prosody Now"

This is a talk with four beginnings.

For the first we are deep in moonlight, though it is purely textual light, since we are indoors, in the hallway of a Spanish-style house in Los Angeles circa 1965. In that verbal shimmer and glow I've flung myself across the carpeted floor to perform for my mother and brother the soliloquy that will be my tryout piece for A Midsummer Night's Dream, our high school senior play. I am deliriously inside the spell of the spell-casting sonorities, as Oberon prepares Puck to begin his mission of mischief. "I know a bank..." he instructs and I declaimed, drunk on iambs and perfume, "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk roses and with eglantine. There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, lulled in these flowers with dances and delight..."The hallway carpet was a bed of flowers in which I too lay down in moonlight and drowsed...In the end, you may have read elsewhere, I was chosen to play not Oberon but Puck---nu, look at this face, who else?--but having voiced and memorized and rehearsed the Oberon lines, I held them close inside me--shall I call this somatic prosody?--for over thirty years, cherished and foundational...right up to the point that I began to teach a course in Prosody for the graduate writing program at the University of San Francisco.

The week's topic was "The Line" and in particular the metrical line, with further inflections to come via Pound, Williams, and Projective Verse. By luck or magic I happened to be walking through Golden Gate Park--that flower-strewn bank--and chanced upon the Shakespeare Garden, which I'd passed many times before but never yet entered. There I found, among the living representative plants, the textual flora as Shakespeare had named them, engraved as quotations on a stone wall. And there--of course I immediately searched--I found the coordinates of my beloved forest glade, where Oberon avowed, I read, "I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows..." Excuse me? Whereon? That's a mistake! Should be, as I'd memorized long ago, "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows," not "whereon the wild thyme blows." Did I have it wrong all these years, was that possible, did I have a somatic prosody malady? I ran home to Google--perhaps then it was Alta Vista--and found there was some scholarly contention as to whether the line should have scanned as perfect iambs--meaning some scribe had dropped the on  in whereon--a position adhered to by a number of conservative noodle-heads, including our Golden Gate protectors of the regularity in verse--or whether Shakespeare had intended the broken foot, enacting a small caesura inside the imabic swoon. This is my first beginning. What is prosody? It is not just the difference between noodle-headed regulators and actual poets; it's the study of, or the attention paid to, the shifts of meaning in the balance in the tiny pause of a syllable suspended as a breeze blows or a petal falls. It is the possibility of "where" against the probability of "whereon."

For the second beginning let me take you to my apartment in San Francisco circa 1981, where a group of poets and enthusiasts have gathered together to form the now somewhat-famous Homer Club--an informal spinoff from the Poetics Program at New College of California--with the lunatic aim of acquiring ancient Greek and reading the whole of the Iliad in the original simultaneously. Many of us knew not a word of Greek, but we had passion for poetic study, and, not incidentally, the ferocious appetite of group captain Robert Duncan to motivate us. And so, foolishly, doggedly, triumphantly, I clopped my way through dictionaries and the crib of multiple translations--aided, I'll say, by a Motown-inflected natural ear for rhythm--to mark the rise and fall and rise of the Homeric hexameters as they roused the troops and swung the sails and heaved the bloody spears on the fields before Troy. We chanted together to hear the aural imprint of the oral epic, in our California accents and tone-deaf attempts at pitch, and we felt the beat of the mythical poets's staff as it, tapped out the points of the six flexible feet. Menin aiede thea, peleiados achilleos...Dum-de-de dum-de-de- dum dum-de-de dum-de-de dum dum. I would learn to call these units dactyls and spondees, but before that I would like awake for hours with the sonic hoofprints of the beat galloping through my head...not the Greek words, which I'd instantly memorized and recited, but the pure hexameters, before language, before the poem. What is prosody? It is the performance of humility before the great powers of form-in-language. It is the name of the galloping horse tearing through the fields of a restless dawn on its essential mission to gather poetic meaning. It is, as The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics has it, "meaning-given figured and textured shape" (37-39).

To read about Aaron's other beginnings, check out his book!


Looking for a reason for hope? Check out Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today!

Dear All--

I am very pleased to post here the Call for Papers for the joint UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz conference~~Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today, to be held Friday October 13 to Sunday October 15, 2017.

The conference is convened by: Lyn Hejinian, Chris Chen, Daniel Benjamin  and Eric Sneathen.

Details are available below!


Frances Richard's George Oppen Memorial Lecture

For some years now, I've tried to make it to The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archive's George Oppen Memorial Lecture. Often they are thrilling, intellectually rigorous, surprising, provocative. This is certainly true for Frances Richard's talk "The Mind's Own Place and Feminine Technologies: George Oppen and Possibilities of the Political" delivered on December 17, 2016.

Frances has generously shared her inspiring talk with us. It was accompanied by a series of images of the Oppens, various publications, and art work. You can also listen to and watch recordings of her talk from The Poetry Center here. I highly recommend it!

Here is one of the images from Frances's talk, William Blake's "Satan Exulting over Eve" from 1794.

Blake's "Satan Exulting over Eve" 1794

Frances Richard

Frances Richard is the author of Anarch. (Futurepoem, 2012), The Phonemes (Les Figues Press, 2012) and See Through (Four Way Books, 2003), as well as the chapbooks Shaved Code (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2008) and Anarch. (Woodland Editions, 2008). She writes frequently about contemporary art and is co-author, with Jeffrey Kastner and Sina Najafi, of Odd Lots: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake Estates” (Cabinet Books, 2005). Her writing on visual art has appeared in Artforum, The Nation, BOMB and exhibition catalogs from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum and Independent Curators International, among others. She teaches at California College of the Arts and San Francisco Art Institute.


Dahlen, Gevirtz and Shufran at The Green Arcade

Quick! Before 2016 is over--there are several noteworthy Bay Area events that occurred in the last half of December. Here is one:

On Tuesday December 16th, after a long hiatus from readings, I ventured out to the Green Arcade, a San Francisco gem, one of our community-oriented bookstores which hosts numerous literary readings and events, to hear Beverly Dahlen, Lauren Shufran, and Susan Gevirtz. What a good choice I made. In the midst of so much shock and horror and the struggle to figure out what one should be doing in the face of our current and ongoing post-election crisis, there was something powerful about being in a room with others committed to the thoughtful, exploratory, nuanced engagement with language, with thinking, with making.

Beverly read from some new work which struck me as painterly, sculptural, lyrical. I love it. Here is one of these new pieces, "The Thrushes of Egypt."

Lauren Shufran then read three recent poems all of which are part of a project that writes in tension with Whitman's Leaves of Grass through contemporary politics, a trip to India, references to Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, the Bhagavad Gita, Richard Spencer's National Policy Institute speech in DC, and more. This work was mesmerizing and I hope we'll see it out in the world here or elsewhere soon!

Lastly, Susan Gevirtz read from her new book, Hotel abc, just out from Nightboat Books.
Gevirtz  closed her reading with this lovely poem, "The Birdhandlers." And thus here on the blog page, we have a  bird theme, though the evening included a variety of themes, references, topics.

The Birdhandlers Jan2017word, PDF (1) by Susan Gevirtz on Scribd
Thanks to these three writers for an evening of hope.


Remembering Francesca Rosa

It is with sadness that I learned today of the death of Francesca Rosa, writer, activist, and publisher. I met Francesca in Bob Glück's Saturday house writing workshop in the mid-1990s where she worked tirelessly on her book The Divine Comedy of Carlo Tresca, a book she finished and published with Ithuriel's Spear in 2012. Francesca was instrumental in bringing my book Dear Reader into the world.

In honor of Francesca, I am reprising an interview I did with her in January of 2009--how swiftly time escapes us.

Francesca Rosa: From The Angels of Light to New Narrative and Labor Activism


Barbara Jane Reyes and Robin Tremblay-McGaw Reading at the San Francisco Public Library

Back in mid-May I read in the Local Poets Series at the San Francisco Public Library in the Civic Center with Barbara Jane Reyes and Eleni Stecopoulos.

A portion of the event was recorded. Eleni elected not to be recorded, but here is an an excerpt of Barbara reading and one from me.


Conference Report: PhiloSOPHIA’s Poetry, Politics & Feminist Theory

On  PhiloSOPHIA’s Poetry, Politics and Feminist Theory Conference
Hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Colorado at Denver

Organized by Julie Carr and Sarah Tyson 
March 9-12, 2016


What a pleasure it was to be part of this conference bringing together scholars and writers from the worlds of philosophy, poetry, feminist theory, and literature.  The conference offered a rich set of readings, talks, panels, workshops and a closing dance party. 

On Thursday evening Lisa Robertson and Cathy Park Hong read in Boulder, sadly an event I missed though both Lisa and Cathy, along with Laura Moriarty, Dawn Lundy Martin and Lyn Hejinian read Saturday night at CounterPath Gallery in Denver and I had a chance to hear them then.  People read from old and new work, mesmerizing the audience. Then, the chairs were moved and the music and our bodies thrummed.

Leading up to this grand finale, there were a host of panels. On Friday I attended one that was supposed to include Mary Hickman presenting “‘Thigh to thigh’: Trans-Life and the Arena in Anne Carson’s ‘Antigo-Nick’ and the Paintings of Jenny Saville,” though Mary’s plane was delayed, leaving Bryan Kimoto from the University of Memphis to fly solo. And fly Bryan did! Thrillingly unfolding “Trans* Poetics, Erotic Embodiment, and Self-Love: A Response to Talia Bettcher’s ‘When Selves Have Sex,’” Bryan’s talk was a critical engagement with Bettcher’s piece (which I haven’t read but am eager to) and traversed a number of arenas including, erotic structuralism, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, Gabe Moses’s poem “How to Make Love to a Trans Person,” and more.
Friday afternoon I was part of a collaborative panel organized by Karen Lepri and Andrea Quaid which also included Madhu Kaza, Margaret Rhee, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee.  For our panel, “Alarming Logics: Feminist Poetics as Discursive/Pedagogic Intervention”:

We return to Rosmarie Waldrop’s “Alarms and Excursions,” published in The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy (1990).  We ask: how does the form of Waldrop’s essay invite us to reframe our approach to the thesis-based college essay that we teach as scholars and poets working in academia. Waldrop’s form occasions a feminist critique of ensconced methodologies based in rationalism, logic, evidence, and single-stance argumentation (Lepri & Quaid).

Based on Waldrop’s essay, we provided panel attendees with note-cards with the headings “alarm,”  “excursion,” “thesis,” and “counter-alarm,” and invited participants to write on these note-cards and to interrupt our performance with their own alarms, excursions, theses. At various points, we moved around the room, improvising with our bodies in the space. This was one of the most enjoyable and engaging presentations I’ve ever participated in. People seemed to take to it and entered into the conversation while it was happening. Their contributions added to the fabric of our work, deepening it. It was exciting and generative.

Later that afternoon Lyn Hejinian gave a wonderfully absorbing plenary talk entitled “The Intimate Excess of Philosophy: Dear Sophie,” in which she discussed the epistolary in the work of Margaret Cavendish and Virginia Woolf. Cavendish’s letters are a philosophic project while Woolf’s, interestingly, are not. Lyn pointed out that Woolf uses her diaries to work out intellectual and literary concerns but her letters are a kind of phenomenology of the sociability of everyday life. Hejinian noted that Woolf is interested in not only the stuff of life but also the life of stuff.

Saturday morning I speed read through three papers—Ella Longpre’s “The Wanting of Disaster: A New Erotics of Writing and Performance”;  Katherine Davies’ “The Poetry of Gender; Anne Carson, Sound, and Language”; and Beata Stawarska’s “Language as Poeisis, Linguistic Productivity in Kristeva and Saussure,” so I could attend this workshop on poetry and philosophy moderated by Lisa Robertson. Rather than read through their conference papers, these writers presented a brief sketch of their work and Lisa established some contextualizing and initial observations and comments. Robertson noted the historical tension between poetry and philosophy, the current global state of crisis around borders, refugees, and race, and then urged us to nuance and keep complex some of the terms that get taken for granted or remain uninterrogated—the political, the social, eros.

As Lisa parsed the three papers, I scribbled this:

Ella Longpre
Beata Stawarska
Katherine Davies











S  P  A  C  E/

S  P  A  C  I A L




There was a rich conversation during this panel which it is impossible to render effectively, but I will say Stawarska’s paper generated interest around a new understanding of Saussure’s work based on materials from his Nachlass, “some of them recently discovered and published in Writings in General Linguistics (2006)” (Stawarska 1). Based on these materials, this version of Saussure attests to the importance of speakers, asserting, “a speaking collectivity [masse parlante] is part of the ‘very definition’ of language itself” (Saussure qtd in Stawarska 5). Stawarska went on to explore Kristeva’s work and to argue that "linguistic productivity....offers a strategy of resistance and revolt against normalization within individual and social life" (2).

Longpre’s interest in the disaster and diagrammatic representations of the circuitry of erotics and disaster was thought-provoking as was Katherine Davies’ fascinating thinking about sophrosyne (Greek virtue of self-control), logos, and ololyga “a ritual shout peculiar to females. It is a high pitched piercing cry uttered at certain climactic moments in ritual practice [e.g., at the moment when a victim’s throat is slashed during sacrifice] or at climactic moments in real life [e.g., at the birth of a child] and also a common feature of women’s festivals” (Carson qtd in Davies).

Later Saturday afternoon another plenary session included talks by Dawn Lundy Martin, Elena Ruiz, and Rachel Jones.  Dawn’s awesome talk was entitled “Discomfort as Feminist Poetic: 7 Short Lectures.” In it she proposed, via Kathleen Fraser, a “laboratory,” a reaching toward “ragged bits” as she thought about race, discomfort, silence on the internet, the accident and failure as swerves which, with respect to Kara Walker’s 2014 Domino Sugar Factory installation, “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” reveal violence. Lundy Martin proposed mobilizing discomfort rather than silence and began to ask what might be possible regarding re-conceptualizing feminist poetics outside of the sphere of the female body; she also opened up the possibility of re-consideration of the term "feminist."

Rachel Jones’s talk, “The Relational Poetics of Barbara Köhler: Weaving a Grammar of Singularity, Solidarity and Difference” was engaging. She presented the work of Köhler, a German writer who reworks the Odyssey and whose writing mobilizes some interesting properties of German grammar which make it possible to read “sie” as [she-they-you].

Last but not least, Elena Ruiz presented a talk “The Aesthetics of Resistance: Poetic Language, Trauma and Feminist Narratives of Selfhood.” Her sharp and incisive paper focused on Latin America, state-sponsored violence, the challenges of history and memory in a totalitarian state and the problematic of European philosophical concepts  and methodological strategies emerging out of them as a basis for praxis in Latin America. She reminded us of the erasure of Mesoamerican scripts, of the violence of the alphabet, of the fact that when there are more than 30,000 people disappeared, there is no time for syntax, that European ontology and epistemology articulates a historical horizon of continuity, continues to construe universality and presumes a baseline stability of experience. Thus, disciplinary paradigms emerge out of, reflect, and re-enact various violences and oppressions.

In short, I attended just a few of many provocative and wide-ranging panels and workshops that left us with a lot to think and write about and much to reflect on.   

One challenge that emerges out of this conference is thinking about how we work with materials from multiple disciplines. Sometimes philosophy uses poetry as an illustration, seeming to simplify what poetry and the poetic is or can be and what its work and other possibilities are. I am sure philosophers probably find the use of philosophy by poets and others to be similarly odd angled. I don’t think there are rules for how one can make use of materials across disciplines and life worlds, but it is certainly worth endeavoring to continually seek the complex and nuanced for the most capacious, or to use a Lisa Robertson term—the most commodious--investigations; simultaneously, as Elena Ruiz argues, we need to consider the historical, political, and ideological foundations of the concepts and practices we use and engage.

As always, these reports are my renderings of presentations based on scanty notes. Of course, for the real thing, you will want to contact these writers and/or look for the publication of these papers elsewhere.