Information about the Desert City Poetry Series, contemporary poetry & poetics, and poetry readings & events in central North Carolina.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Vitiello's Review of Saturday Night

Chris Vitiello wrote up a thorough and thoughtful review of the reading Saturday, particularly a good reading/view of Cole's work as well as a great little snippet from the junior Vitiello.

You can find it here.

The only thing Chris left out was ebullient and deserved praise of his own work.

Thanks, Chris!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Reading Wrap-Up, Reviews, and Some Updates

Once again, an inspiring, passionate, delightful performance from the two readers Saturday night: Cole Swensen and Chris Vitiello. Some surprising similarities between them, most obvious in their interest in contemporary French poets and more subtly in the ideas that brought them to those French writers (Hocquard, Cadiot, Albiach, etc.) in the first place. In a field that demands creativity, Chris is one of the most creative poets I've had the pleasure to meet. He made a little chapbook/activity book, projected a film loop made of words written onto super 8 film, projected light through a baking dish and several fish, and read two works: one a roller coaster of a sales pitch and the other sections of his manuscript Irresponsibility. Cole read some work from a forthcoming book that revolves around hands and metaphors for hands (I believe the title is The Book of a Hundred Hands?), from a manuscript about formal gardens which is still in the revision stage, and lastly a piece from her most recent book, Goest. Cole is one of the most intelligent and compassionate writers I've read; the power and range of her intellect is like that of Susan Howe, and Swensen combines that with, what I read, as a deep belief in the beauty, value, and potential of humanity. Great poems, and she reads them very well. It was an incredible visit I'm sure we'll all be talking about for a long time.

So a couple reviews have turned up of the reading: one is by Marcus Slease that can be found here.
The other is by Mike Snider and can be found here.

Thanks, Mike & Marcus!

A couple of quick updates before I close with the introduction I put together for Chris and Cole: Lance Phillips unfortunately has had to cancel his plans to come read with Lisa Jarnot in the Desert City in April. Fortunately, Andrea Selch has agreed to step into his place.

Speaking of Lisa's reading, we've set a tentative (mostly solid) date: it will be Saturday, April 23rd. Jarnot is appearing with the help of the John Hope Franklin Center; thanks, Duke University. She will be giving a lecture at Duke on Friday the 22nd. I'll post details.

The last and final reading of the year will feature Lee Ann Brown and Carl Martin. We have a tentative (mostly solid) date for that as well: Saturday, April 30th.

Lastly, the date of the next Carrboro Poetry Festival is drawing nigh. The dates will be May 21st and 22nd. The CPF was an incredible event last year, set the bar very high. This year won't disappoint either I'm sure. Stay tuned for details.

So thanks everyone for coming on Saturday, thanks Chris and Cole, and see you all again on March 19th for Brian Henry and Tara Rebele.....

Cole Swensen and Chris Vitiello Into

1. Announcements and welcome
a. Tonight: the Blue Door w/ Evie Shockley
b. Friday, March 18th, the next Durham 3 event at Ooh-la-latte at 7:30 or so. In addition to other folks Randall Williams and I will be reading and performing poems.
c. Next Desert City reading Saturday, March 19th, at 8pm, at the Internationalist. This reading will feature Tara Rebele author of I am Not Jenny and Brian Henry a veteran of last year’s Carrboro poetry Festival, author of three collections of poems, and editor of Verse Magazine.
d. The second Desert City reading in March will be Saturday the 26th at 8pm at the Internationalist. It will feature Patrick Herron, Carrboro’s own Poet Laureate and author of The American Godwar Complex; and Kent Johnson author of The Miseries of Poetry, and a finalist for the 2002 PEN Award in Translation, and recent winner of an NEA Fellowship for Translation.

2. Welcome
a. Thanks for coming
b. introduce yourself
c. The Desert City is a non-profit, volunteer run and funded organization. Both of the poets tonight are appearing without receiving any compensation. Please make a donation to support the poets and the series. Please buy books to support the internationalist.
d. Sign up sheet in the back for announcements of future events

3. Thanks yous
a. The Internationalist
b. Cole and Chris
c. all of you
d. my parents
e. Violet
f. Kathryn

4. Tonight though we are here to see Chris Vitiello and Cole Swensen.

5. In The Nature of Things, Francis Ponge asks, “What is the nature of man?” He answers, “Language and Morality.” Few poets are as dedicated to that exploration of the moral use and consequence of language as one of tonight’s readers and my dear friend Chris Vitiello.
6. In Vitiello’s poems, language use is fundamentally a moral question. At its root, language is a lie; the word chair is obviously not a chair. So what, though, does the word chair create? make happen? Is it morally right to accept the falsehood loitering within every word? Questions like these guide Vitiello’s examination of language and morality. By pushing words and phrases that we normally take for granted to their rational ends, he attempts to find language which has an absolute relationship to the thing it represents. What he most often shows us is the uncanny and surreal world that lurks and is created by our words.
7. He writes in Irresponsibility, “Am I supposed to write that it rained? // One, two, three, four, five, six // What rained?”
8. Chris Vitiello lives in a plum colored house in Durham with Vicki and Iris Vitiello. He is the author of Nouns Swarm a Verb published in 1999 and was a founding editor of one of the 90s most highly esteemed literary journals, Proliferation. He earned an Master of Fine Arts degree from the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He is currently a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group and the head, though he will deny it, of a poets’ theatre group called The Theatre of Consecutive Thinking. His range of interests and projects is too long to list but they include home repair, automatic flip clocks, Marcel Duchamp, pin-hole photography, bird watching, letterpress printing, Romanian folk music, modern dance, cinematography, the work of Matthew Barney, cooking, and a semi-annual writers’ retreat called “working vacation.”
9. Vitiello’s most recent poetic project is a work titled Irresponsibility. The question that predicates the book is whether or not the writing of poems is a morally responsible act. From this question, he turns his intellect to consider the way language and poems represent nature, human relationships, poetry, art objects, and language itself, how, finally, language reveals only itself.
10. Like language, “The coverage of the taxi explosion / shows the exploded taxi” and “To see the wind I look at a tree” and “You shouldn’t have to fight boredom” and “Writing this erases what it actually is” and “I see this: The puddle’s reflection of trees against sky repeatedly jitters and stills / I say this: ‘It is raining.’”
11. His quest is always to find something real in language, to find something other than words below words. In this drive, Vitiello is a sort of a rational mystic and poems serve as a set of instructions to guide himself and his readers to actual life beyond the page. He writes, “This is a poem / The poem happens outside the poem // Poems happen outside / poems / //Poems aren’t / poems.”
12. It is not clear if it is possible, in these poems, to escape the endless and fantastic maze that our words make for our minds, because of course, we can only describe the means of that escape with more words.
13. Vitiello writes, “The car is smoking / I knew / the car smokes / All you have to do is pay attention and it’s not that simple.”
14. Please welcome Chris Vitiello.

15. “The world is beautiful and now it is a single thing and this renders it silent so that the light can pass through in any direction, altering the nature of motion, and everything that moves is newly legible though unsayable; one said it would be possible but another turned around quickly and is still turning.”
16. The unsayable, the indescribable, the world beyond words, without terms: the paradox of describing beauty so profound that it is beyond description: this is the territory Cole Swensen seeks to enter in her poems, as a geographer of unspeakable wonder.
17. “There is indeed the unspeakable, and it can’t show itself; this is the real.”
18. A finalist for the National Book Award in 2004, the author of nine collections of poetry, a translator of contemporary French poets, winner of at least five other prestigious literary awards, member of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop faculty, and political activist.
19. “Landscape is light alone. Some white coming up from behind which like a pendulum will come to entrance” and “I saw someone leaving / and I saw the world, which was meant only for background, come to life” and “into the blazing city // that all the white boats are leaving, a city sailing / into ages, please repeat: // 1) The city is white / 2) Most cities are white / 3) The white thing you see if you turn around quickly // often far away, often far out to see, though at time across a plain, a shimmer, or as if silt falling, fine-grained, a counting sand, a seed well-timed”
20. Light, in these poems, is our teacher, is that which makes everything possible. Light as an ally, the unifier; lighting, lightning, the state to which Swensen asks us to aspire.
21. “Land becomes art through applied joy and shock” and ““The natural extension of the hand / is the world is / reflected in its proper motion.”
22. Humanity in its highest state: the world and of the world. The poems uncover the work of painters, inventors, scientists, philosophers, the moments when we reach into the real, unsayable world and bring something back into life.
23. “Walking unravels the muscle that connects / the earth to bone, / feathers it out like a braid unskeined, / the leaves never fall straight down, even / when you think not one bit of air is moving” and “Philolaus the Pythagorean who believed / the sun a vitreous body / oddly / built of cast-off centuries with all their pictures in place” and “Poussin: the angel is still there but Joseph looks back at her in fear while Mary simply looks back and the child, simply, at us. Behind it all, an impossibly intricate world that turns the sun blue.”
24. Humanity, in these poems, as the recipient, creator, and beneficiary of beauty of creation, humanity in the singular.
25. “Face after face across this expanse. Extend and turn. If you turned around you’d be facing a forest” and “the face that underlies a landscape is only perceptible from a train. Einstein knew this and ‘the world has a face that looks back at you, and it is your own.’”
26. Cole Swensen is a humanist, a historian and celebrant of human achievement, an archeologist of the undeniable, inevitable recurrence of beauty in us and in the world.
27. “We begin with the proposition that the world is beautiful” and ““You can now see the world as a single streak, something built of transparent speed; pure white of the sort they say no one person, unaided, can perceive.”
28. Please welcome Cole Swensen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Cole Swensen & Chris Vitiello This Saturday, February 19th

Please spread far and wide.........

Who: Cole Swensen, Finalist for the 2004 National Book Award in Poetry for her book Goest, author of 9 other collections of poetry, translator of some of the best of contemporary French poetry, a faculty member at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, also famous for building a life-size model of Big Ben out of America Online CDs.

Who: Chris Vitiello, author of Nouns Swarm a Verb, survivor of the Lucipo roadshow, rumored to be the head of a theatre group whose existence is itself rumored to be a rumor.

What: Desert City Poetry Series, when you care to hear the very best.

When: This Saturday, February 19th, 8:00pm, 2005.

Where: Internationalist Books, 405 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Why: "I've / always / wanted / said the painter // and so he did" "Am I supposed to write that it rained? // One, two, three, four, five, six // What rained?"

See you there.......

Next Month Two Readings:

March 19th: Tara Rebele & Brian Henry
March 26th: Kent Johnson & Patrick Herron

*Internationalist Books

*Cole Swensen

*Chris Vitiello

Contact the DCPS: Ken Rumble, director:
rumblek at bellsouth dot net

by Cole Swensen



The guard peers closely
at the painting. Count.

The fingers. The figures. The
strange sweep from waist

to chest to head. His hand reaches out
within a second of


She sweeps upward. Up
to where the gold sky might

What would the touch
if it did not first

run up against
a man who is in the end a man


She touched the painting
as soon as the guard

turned his back. Respond.
I said turn around. I

screamed, I drowned, I
thought you were home.

I touched the surface of the canvas.
It was I, the sound of salt. And fell
and is still falling through a silent earth.



A deep red in the sky that has nothing
to do with the season but quiets

Outside drinking coffee and wine and watching.
Look, he's speaking, leaning over to his

Look how the lines around his eyes and mouth.
Fleet. Part. What of that. Replies.


She crosses the square in a bright red coat.
Look how they look at her, look up

from their talking. There is no thought
here of leaving. There is no thought.

There are people crossing the square
arm in arm, in threes and fours and alone in great numbers.


Joseph Albers, THE INTERACTION OF COLOR, 1975. I've heard
that no one is ever repeated or ever precisely named.

She took the coat off the peg.
Even to herself, she said it was her own.

She crosses the square on her way home.
She will not stop at a cafe, she will not talk, she will just go home.



The minute progressions between grey and black
becoming one against the red that stares back.

Because she knows they are watching, she will not turn around.
Home is a sound repeated to solid, to something that will hold.

Look, there goes a man with his left hand left lightly
on the head of his child. There they go.


In the painting, all the reaching hands are growing.
In the gallery, everything was green and gold and red

Made the sun, though deep, cut through:
Within the door was a window; within the window, a jar.

Inside the jar, carefully there, the love need not be
assigned in order to fix and ignite.


She had to cross the square in order to get home.
She was one. And one by one, they looked up and watched.

When the guard turned around, the gesture was gone.
A woman stood back and said no.

She stood back, looking at the painting and said isn't it fine
that a woman wearing red could arrive at a gold sky. Remind.
Or else in falling. And nothing broke. The rift
shifts open the devout. A finger that exceeded number, a

from Irresponsibility
by Chris Vitiello

Late November into early December 2004
Shenandoah, VA
Harrisonburg, VA
Springfield, VA
Washington, DC
Durham, NC

Grackles bathe where the drainage
terminates // Typical pull // Pulling so into
// Between
the low Winter Sun and me
Before the low Winter Sun, their splashes

He leaf-blows in church clothes

There really are grackles

Grackles splash a fray
in the drain divot pool behind
which the Sun sets // Position makes this
appearance // Giving
up is never correct
The whitespace goes negative // Choice of negation
Event-specific sets of by what
The oak leaves appear brassy
Undoing aperçu

The grate has sunken askew // Here’s why // Gerunds
are now
That school addition is unornamented and, in backlit


Iris and Gracie console imaginary horses
A storm threatens // They argue
beneath a lopsided oak
Win it word by word is problematic
Carriage returns

Cadiot: I will do something to someone
The school building rear
looks like a factory contains
also is a factory // Is
Not an implication but a container
His behavior appears portioned and metaphorical
to me as
if he thinks he is being read
A container contained by what it contains
What’s in Firdos Square now?
Argument is the game
Grackles bathe and drink in
a drainage pool
Winter Sun setting linear behind
These 2 things, but 1 thing

Making an argument is a surface

Exploitation instructs

This coat does nothing

I know that the dogwood is completely red though I cannot see
it from here

Arafat’s dead // So’s Michelle

“What’s different now?”
versus “Can it be unwritten?”
Only the parts of his body move that
he needs to // He does 1 thing
Miles Davis: “Paraphernalia”

The grackles, the water, their splashing, the sunlight
through the splashing
I’m in the plenum too
Iris and Gracie try the swings again
is experience-determined duration
This book is set in 12-point type
I wonder if I’m still alive

The container, the surface, the contents, the
whitespace, the characteristics, the durations attached to these
Hocquard: Does writing allow someone to see better?
And the words, obviously
Pursuit is pushing and we have
those 2 words // Little gravelly hill
is one way of saying
little gravelly hill
Thank you Hocquard
Once demarcated, how different should/could the items be?
He makes shit and carbon-dioxide

The saturated soil sank so unintentional berm

(As I write this) Iris tells Theresa to say “No, no it isn’t”
// Theresa says it
Geometric equipment and what isn’t?
Cobra is a system not a composition
Albiach: would their word be transmitted

That lopsided oak likely lost its crown in ice storms
Vicki and I married and Rabin was assassinated
Iris guesses pronunciation at vowels
A signal is a sub-signal < This with this
or this without this

Returning to the grackles is
different from returning to Firdos Square // One symmetry
displaces another
Royet-Journoud: eye pursues its prey / shelters behind
another phrase
The Fallujah offensive is replay and slow-motion
at here // Bettis’s subtlety
Is it information or does it contain information?
Evie’s rectangle

The coverage of the taxi explosion
shows the exploded taxi

Until she gets it right

Nothing elapses at now

Vicki calls from earlier in time

The cartoons did their jobs and were declared heroes

The magical rain brings the tree to life

Neither vacuum nor plenum is a negation

I’m getting tough // Poetry is invisible

The red dogwood leaves hang directly at the ground
in angled clusters around the base of the
nude depleted buds

The Periodic Table lapses into abominations
One name is as good as another
Amber’s detachment
Minimal and essential, snakes
The projector completely blocks the light source
between each frame
Nothing’s haphazard and I don’t expect
the dots to be connected // Iris says
“The pinks almost rhyme”

Snakes do
not elaborate
Sunset is a lie

By naming the suspension of judgment you
are missing the point
There were no single grackles // The understood it
Grackles is singular

Each dogwood leaf is mottled with blacks, browns,
and reds // Veins
are yellowish implies the green they were in Spring
White, dried blotch perimeters
Lack of end-punctuation is a characteristic //
Characteristic has of
I agree they’re red

They were probably starlings
It turns out
The noun is a process

I can see three flags from here
Her remote control trees all on the same frequency
Devendra Banhart: “Nice People…”
One thing is not any thing

Vicki moved and everything moved // Vicki moved everything