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

Friday, January 12, 2007

Old Introductions

Apparently I'm feeling nostalgic today despite not actually feeling nostalgic (?) At any rate, below are the introductions I wrote for the poets who visited the Desert City over the last couple years.

They're in reverse chronological order, so they go like so

1. Emmanuel Hocquard, Rosmarie Waldrop, Juliette Valéry

2. Ron Silliman & Selah Saterstrom

3. Ed Roberson & Todd Sandvik

4. Sarah Manguso & Julian Semilian

5. John Taggart & Randall Williams

6. Brent Cunningham & Tessa Joseph

7. Brenda Coultas & Marcus Slease

8. Lee Ann Brown & Carl Martin

9. Lisa Jarnot & Andrea Selch

10. Kent Johnson & Patrick Herron

11. Cole Swensen & Chris Vitiello

12. Standard Schaefer, Marcos Canteli, Rachel Price

13. C. S. Giscombe & Jon Thompson

14. Aaron McCollough & Tony Tost

15. Joe Donahue & Jim Brasfield


Old Introductions: Rosmarie Waldrop, Emmanuel Hocquard & Juliette Valéry
(Introductions by Chris Vitiello)

This spring, Randall and I have been typing sentences.

That’s not typing like on a typewriter, but categorizing sentences into types, and then using those types as such, or reading the work of others with those types in mind, to see if an idiosyncratic or authorial logic will become evident.

I’m not sure where Randall is with his list of types, but I’ve seen long bulleted lists in his notebook. Myself, I’m a simple man, and I’ve settled into four sentence types that seem to have all other kinds of sentences subcategorized within one or more of them. I’ve been using this quartet as a blunt object on my writing. My types are:
• direct commands
• fact statements
• direct observations
• questions

I’m not sure that questions is actually a type, because you can write a sentence of one of the other three types as a question, but…

The consequence, for me at least, in this typing endeavor, is that my writing has become so artificial that it goes flat sometimes. I find it to be exactly what I set out to write, and really quite dull, at the same time.

Now, I am resolved and committed to artifice. I always want to be aware that language is a system of inherently arbitrary and meaningless signs linked metaphorically to signifieds, and that poetry is a tradition with sets of inherently arbitrary and meaningless conventions and assumptions. A critic once dismissed the work of John Baldessari with the comment “That’s not art; that’s just pointing at things.” Well, I point at things, and I point at the pointing. It’s what I do. And now I am able to write three, or perhaps four, kinds of sentences.

Now, Rosmarie Waldrop likewise points and meta-points, and her writing is overwhelmingly conceptually and aesthetically rich and vibrant. It’s an energy transfer. I sit down at the desk to read from The Reproduction of Profiles, and before I know it I’m outside the house, walking, with the book open in my hand, looking for trees to climb or something. How does she do it?

In her writing, the inextricable artifices of language and poetry are not assumed to be transparent. She is complicating the language at all turns, and in a way that not only reveals the language as a code, but reveals code itself as an artificial system. These prose poems in her trilogy The Reproduction of Profiles, Lawn of Excluded Middle, and Reluctant Gravities continuously open as you read them, and they meta-open as well.

Two sailors throwing dice on the quay will not make a monument, but there you sat reading a paper in its shadow. You said once we had a language in which everything was alright, everything would be alright, and your body looked beautiful while a fisherman tied his boat to a post, looping his rope through the rings without getting tangled in problems of representation or reflection. Nobody looked at you except for the water which, though it has no shape, is heavy with mirroring that of others. These images, however, are hard to get hold of, sunk as they are at the bottom of the alphabet.

You can read this as narrative prose, enjoying the interpersonal and romantic twists of the I and the you. You can also read it as an essay on, and an example of, problems of representation and reflection. Or you can admire the aesthetic and conceptual craft of the ornate shifts and transfers from one philosophical issue to another – several in every sentence. These poems are not so much accessible as imminently available, receivers rather than transmitters of ideology.

Hers are the kinds of books in which the word count of your marginalia would exceed her primary text. When you read Waldrop’s work, you de-condense her condensation, and this is how the energy transfer happens. And you can unpack these poems in many different ways, setting up very different residences in the poems in the process.

Only a person who contains multitudes can make these kinds of artifacts, and Waldrop indeed contains multitudes. I don’t know how many books she has written (I have more than 10 in my library) or how many she has translated (again, more than 10 such books in my house) or how many she has published (easily I have 30 Burning Deck books), but these numbers do not matter. Rosmarie Waldrop is someone who gives. She has devoted a life to readers, to those who read.

And tonight, she will read for us. Please welcome Rosmarie Waldrop.

In the opening of his 1947 essay “My Creative Method,” Francis Ponge writes about his disappointment in ideas:

Ideas as such seem to me what I am least fit for, and they interest me little. You may well reply that right now we are dealing with an idea (an opinion)… However, ideas, opinions, strike me as determined in each of us by something quite different from free will or judgment. I don’t know anything more subjective, more epiphenomenal…

On the other hand, objects, landscapes, events, individuals of the external world give me much pleasure. They win my trust. For the simple reason that they don’t need it. Their concrete presence and evidence, their density, their three dimensions, their palpable undeniable aspect, their existence – all this is my sole justification for existence, or more precisely, my pretext; and the variety of things is what constructs me.

At first this seems very similar to the William Carlos Williams “No ideas but in things” concept, but Ponge extends it. He establishes a category in the interstice between ideas and things that he calls “observations, or… experimental ideas” – he’s using the word experimental in a scientific rather than aesthetic sense here. It seems to Ponge that he can agree on certain established facts and definitions because these are both abstract and phenomenal, though he acknowledges that language gets in the way here:

Why is there this difference, this unthinkable margin between the definition of a word and the description of the thing designated by the word? Why is it that dictionary definitions seem to be so woefully lacking in concreteness, and descriptions (in novels or poems, for example) so incomplete (or else too specific and detailed), so arbitrary, so capricious? Couldn’t one imagine some kind of writing (brand new) which, placing itself more or less between the two (definition and description), would borrow from the former its infallibility, its indubitability, and its brevity; and from the latter, its respect for the sensory aspect of things…

Quite simply, Emmanuel Hocquard produces this “brand new” kind of writing, not by locating it between the poles of definition and description, but by commuting or vacillating between them at an ultrasyntactic speed that makes a connection. This is the eighth sonnet in A Test of Solitude:

Viviane, there has been the canale, and there is
the burnt stump.
Between the two, thirty paces, seventeen iron-
woods and eight seasons gone by.
What operation in mathematics or logic can
count at the same time in meters, trees and
Should one even try?
Would somebody with sense go and add up
bread and feeling?
It’s like saying: I remember the islands.
Here, however, is an intention, tied to a film
project – the sequel of the voyage – a matter
of going from the canale to the burnt stump.

By writing in this brand new way, Hocquard extends Ponge’s extension of Williams, into an ethics.

This is a little reductive, but instead of taking Williams’ objectivist opposition of ideas and things, or Ponge’s phenomenologically framed poles of definition and description, Hocquard nests these oppositions into the operational area of interrogation, and posits the impossible area of negation all around it. Hocquard is not presenting a way to think, or even a way to write – he’s presenting a way to exist, even while acknowledging the fundamental lack of an explanation of, or purpose for, existence. Let’s face it, being alive is difficult (interrogation), but what’s the alternative (negation)?

Hocquard’s book Theory of Tables is his equivalent to Ponge’s essay “My Creative Method.” In its afterword, Hocquard describes his method for writing the book. In his travels he collected pebbles, beach glass, fallen bits of facades -- fragments of the external world – placing them in white envelopes upon which he noted the time and place of their collection. Later, he emptied the envelopes out, separately, onto tables, and contemplated them, writing his observations and interrogations. As he says, “I had become, in sum, the translator of pebbles.”

Here is the 34th sequence of the book:

A name becomes clear
A name is extinguished

You had a name for this

You don’t remember which anymore
you have lost this name
can this take its place?

This is not an image of this

If the reply is this
what is this? is a question with no object

A question has no object

Does this clarify this?

Please welcome Emmanuel Hocquard.

Old Introductions: Ron Silliman & Selah Saterstrom
(Tony Tost Introduced Ron)

5. “Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, “That’s a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?” to which they replied, “Yes sir.””
6. Selah Saterstrom’s first book, The Pink Institution, documents a family history that is grotesque in it’s adherence to a sexual code, both physical and gender, that is conveyed in a series of such lessons which are often far more violent than something like a chair through a window.
7. The narrator describes the “Make out game” she was forced to play with her cousin Ruth which involved a piece of paper meant to keep their lips separate, “Ruth would gather her lips around her teeth so that her lips were hard. She would push the paper with her bone mouth into my swollen lips until they were forced to part. The game ended when I ate the paper. She would not stop until I swallowed it. That was the rule.”
8. And this image, of forced and mediated intimacy, is representative of the work as a whole: familial intimacy, affection, love all transformed into weapons and wielded with pitiless abandon against mothers, fathers, sisters, daughters, and granddaughters. This is the twisted South of Faulkner and O’Connor, the world that social etiquette, “manners,” sustains, condones, and keeps unseen.
9. “thirteen bottles of liquor thirteen bottles of liquor a .44 a .44 requested strangulation requested strangulation pyre on fire pyre on fire starvation starvation self willed car accident with small child self willed car accident with small child jumping jumping tumor tumor vomit (possibly accidental) vomit (possibly accidental) severe electrolyte imbalance severe electrolyte imbalance in a swamp, alone in a swamp, alone an insane husband an insane husband an insane husband”
10. In passages such as this scattered throughout the book, the matter of fact tone of the book collapses into a howl, a howl that must be lurking beneath the narrator’s adherence to standard forms of grammar and syntax – beneath her writerly manners so to speak.
11. “It was like the moan was mud and the sounds had stepped out of it. With the moan as backdrop, the sound hovered, vibrating above my mother’s lips for probably few seconds, then the sounds folded. The backs of the sounds collapsed. Like chicken spines breaking. In a high-pitched voice, like it had been stuffed and packed with rubber balloons, she woke speaking, saying, I can talk I can talk.”
12. Selah Saterstrom’s work has recently appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Harness, Monkey Puzzle, 3rd Bed, and in the Seattle Research Institute’s anthology, Experimental Theology. She lives and teaches writing and text/image courses at Warren Wilson College in Asheville.
13. Towards the end of The Pink Institution, Saterstrom attempts to provide some explanation for all this violence – she writes, “It was bodies, what made bodies, and what bodies made. It was illegal separation. It was back-flipping in a five-star padded room. It was the Confederate Memorial Bandstand. It was the sound of birds pecking glass.”
14. Please welcome Selah Saterstrom.

Old Introductions: Ed Roberson & Todd Sandvik
(Joe Donahue Introduced Ed)

5. Rune One: “Golden friend, and dearest brother, / Brother dear of mine in childhood, / Come and sing with me the stories, / Come and chant with me the legends, / Legends of the times forgotten, / Since we now are here together, / Come together from our roamings. / Seldom do we come for singing, / Seldom to the one, the other, / O'er this cold and cruel country, / O'er the poor soil of the Northland. / Let us clasp our hands together / That we thus may best remember Todd Sandvik, / The renowned and wise enchanter, / Born from everlasting Ether / Of his mother, Ether's daughter.” Or, “To be specific, / what you are about to hear / you will recover from.”
6. Rune Two: “Todd Sandvik, old and truthful, / arranges for a journey / To the village of the Carrboro, / To the land of cruel winters, / To the land of little sunshine, / To the land of worthy women; / Plunging through Wainola's meadows, / O'er the plains of Kalevala. / Fast and far he galloped onward, / Galloped far beyond Wainola, / Till he reached the blue-sea's margin, / Wetting not the hoofs in running.” Or, “The best instincts of man are / exactly what the powers of hell feed on.”
7. Rune Three: “But the evil Youkahainen / Nursed a grudge within his bosom, / In his heart the worm of envy, / Envy of this Todd Sandvik, / Of this wonderful enchanter. / Youkahainen prepares a cruel cross-bow, / Made of steel and other metals, / Paints the bow in many colors, / Molds the top-piece out or copper, / Trims his bow with snowy silver, / Then he hunts for strongest sinews, / Finds them in the stag of Hisi, / Interweaves the flax of Lempo. / Ready is the cruel cross-bow.” Or, “The subject does not actually change shape, / but is nevertheless capable of being as dangerous as a werewolf.”
8. Rune Four: “Undaunted, Youkahainen, / Quick adjusting shoots his arrow. / Swift as light it speeds its journey, / Strikes the steed of Todd Sandvik, / Strikes the light-foot, ocean-swimmer, / Strikes him near his golden girdle, / Through the shoulder of the racer. / Thereupon wise Todd Sandvik / Headlong fell upon the waters, / Plunged beneath the rolling billows, / From his dappled steed of magic.” Or, “’The god who gave you bravery gave me cunning,’ whispers the wolf / into the disembodied ear on the pathologist’s table.”
9. Rune Five: “Youkahainen thus boasted: / "I have slain old Todd Sandvik, / Slain the son of Kalevala, / That he now may plow the ocean, / That he now may sweep the waters, / On the billows rock and slumber. / In the deep sank the magician" / And this his mother answered: / "Woe to earth for this thine action, / Gone forever, joy and singing, / Vanished is the wit of ages! / Thou hast slain good Todd Sandvik. / Slain the ancient wisdom-singer, / Slain the hero of Wainola, / Slain the joy of Kalevala."” Or, “Without fear, wade into this confusion, / dealing here a fracture, here a bite, and here a slight contusion; / crack obstinate heads together, pull the concussed foes apart.”
10. Rune Six: “Meanwhile from the cruel salt-sea where he had fell / Todd Sandvik raised his wounded brow and asked / “Must I swim the sea forever, / Must I live, or must I perish? / What will happen if I perish, / If I sink below the billows, / Perish here from cold and hunger?" / And thus the bird of Ether answered / "Be not in the least disheartened, / Place thyself between my shoulders, / On my back be firmly seated, / Well do I the day remember / Where thou didst the eagle service, / Thou didst leave the birch-tree standing. / And thus Todd Sandvik was borne to the shores of dismal Sariola.” Or, “animals looking more and more intelligent -- / the only thing going on / is a free-for-all over other dead animals.”
11. Rune Seven: “Todd Sandvik, lone and weary, / Straightway fell to bitter weeping, / He could not find a woodland foot-print, / That would point him to the highway, / To his home in Carrboro. / Meanwhile, Northland's young and slender maiden, / With complexion fair and lovely, / the maiden, Laura, rose in beauty, / the tasks this maid had ended, / when from the meadow's distant border, / Near the surges of the great-sea, / she hears our hero’s wailing from the waters, / Hears his hero-voice lamenting. / Laura thereupon made answer, / “Weep no longer, Todd Sandvik, / Grieve no more, thou friend of waters, / come to my friendly home and fireside; / Thou shalt live with me and be welcome, / Thou shalt sit at my table, / Eat the salmon from my platters, / Eat the sweetest of my bacon, / Eat the whiting from my waters." Or, “imagine words strung out across darkness, / and the silent spaces between them and the emptiness that binds a snowfall together, / or turns a hundred starlings rising from a wire into a single flock.”
12. Please welcome the great magician, Todd Sandvik.

Old Introductions: Sarah Manguso & Julian Semilian

5. Julian Semilian writes, “last night at the poetry reading I was a smash! // the fans flung themselves at me, they bounded off with such abandomnet that it neared ascension to a fabulous idolatry, a tango of such maniacal spiral soaring that I had to simply step back not to snap.”
6. Tonight at this poetry reading Julian Semilian will be a smash, and we, his fans, will fling ourselves at him.
7. “the fan, one whooshed overhead like a police helicopter & slammed athwart into the frail body of a frenchman, a sapsucking saprophyte of the baudrillard strain, who’d gone on just before me, you know the sort, painting the quarter-moon with the mane of reigning algebra czars, for vampirically powdered post rock & roll refuse in fishtorn nets, posturing disciple of de sade.”
8. Somehow we do know the sort of people that Semilian describes, his cadre of circus born citizens who shamble in and out of these poems like a hurrying father who has forgotten his keys and then his wallet and then his briefcase and then his lunch.
9. “She had red curls and if you touched them they’d feel like copper sponges. Her rump was round and tight, a pre-crumb Madonnna rump, she was probably twenty-seven then but she’s still older than me now … her seams slashed us, supplicants, like sabers across the classroom, while the bristle on the calves shot out through the fabric like backlit orange barbed wire.”
10. Like models down an infinite catwalk, Semilian’s sentences saunter out at a jaunty angle without promise of a period out and into acrobatic twists sure to claim gold in the floor routine a few summers from now in Beijing.
11. “You must stop fantasizing me as a lion doing those horrible things to you, especially when your wish is to be devoured. I realize you don’t really want me to devour you, it’s just a fantasy to get you off, you can’t help yourself – and none of us know where these fantasies come from – but still, it puts a strain on me. I want to be good, I want to be human, but when you fantasize like that I am seized, in spite of my good intentions, by a desire to rush over and do to you exactly what you fantasize.”
12. Semilian’s life has been a sort of fantasy. Born in Romanian, he escaped that country as a young man and eventually made his way to Los Angeles where he worked for 24 years as a film editor on dozens of major motion pictures. In 1998 he moved to Winston-Salem and joined the faculty of the film school at North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2004 he joined the Lucifer Poetics Group. He has not been the same since.
13. “I was mingling once again at a level where Life & Death abscond, in a blissful tango of candelabras, on a honeymoon of seamy expectations! // in reverie I was whisked on the train by the male impersonators as the rouged, spiked, and powdered pubertine 17th century abyssian ambassador to rome.”
14. Semilian might be an ambassador from Neptune – if so then his books Transgender Organ Grinder, A Spy in Amnesia, and Osiris with a Trombone Across the Seam of Insubstance should be viewed as an elaborate and visionary plan for the hybridization and betterment of two species related solely by their desire for the deepest depths of the weird.
15. “Yes, I said yes, and I swallowed it slowly till I felt it shifting inside me as my very own persona, as my ballet of disobedient iguanas, till it became my own brand of irregular balletics.”
16. Please welcome our dearest irregular ballerina Julian Semilian.

17. In “Poem of Comfort”, Sarah Manguso writes: “So, love, look away from the dying marsupials, / for I am about to invent a distracting brand-new dance / to deliver you from all the thundering disparity of the world.”
18. It is not so much a delivery from the world that Manguso provides, but rather the clear view, a clear view of the disparity and the thundering and fearful magic of the world.
19. “how can they know / what it is to save me, drowning in a lake / moving like boiling soup because the earth / spins and shakes and refuses to die, refuses / to fly heavenward and meet its cold moon.”
20. Sarah Manguso is an Aquarius with a Scorpio moon, the author of The Captain Lands in Paradise and the forthcoming Siste Viator, a regular contributor to The Believer, and last night she met the mayor of Carrboro.
21. “The bright obvious shines in his body. / Here comes the electric, the burning mystery!”
22. There are mysteries that Manguso’s work reveals as in “It’s a Fine Thing to Walk Through the Allegory” in which she writes: “The real meaning moves from the specific to the general / but writing even a hundred poems about the same deer / is not necessarily about God.”
23. But for every mystery revealed, another is discovered – the end the narrator seeks is always out of grasp, each exit is an image in a mirror; whether this funhouse is actually fun or simply terrifying is difficult to determine.
24. “Sometimes I think I understand the way things work / and then I find out that on Neptune it rains diamonds. / On this world you can get out of work early, unclog the drain, hear music / … / I wouldn’t like to be / that planet. But if I had to I would take it, / the decades of punishing rain, and the fires / on neighboring planets I would watch, / thankful I was never touched by them, / and that the diamonds were mine.”
25. In these poems, the diamond rain is far more real than the clogged drain. The sheep laughing in the parking lot, the muse in a silver pick-up, the nightmares of geniuses, the frozen blue pyramids falling from the sky, and the horse, that may be the end of the world, that horse covered in equations in the shape of horses.
26. “The Arc de Triomphe is real. The Jardin des Tuileries is real. The Eiffel Tower is very real. The carafe of wine, the remains of dinner, the bill: all real. None are necessary to your life.”
27. What is necessary is love, magic, beauty, experience, intimacy, all of which flee and return, lose and gain proximity like the heavenly bodies in their orbits that Manguso often invokes, these flee and return with time though there is a danger that they are always an illusion.
28. “I may sob for true love now, / but just around the corner a truer love awaits. / I may sip drinks through a straw and roll under the table, / burbling drunk, but what’s coming next is the truest sin, / the shiniest car, the softest bed, / the swingingest partner at the sock hop / dancing and enchanted under the sea, and my own true destiny.”
29. Who’s coming next, please welcome, Sarah Manguso.

Old Introductions: John Taggart & Randall Williams

5. “floating / untethered // crows then / maypoles // lassoes and paper / thin joints // light now / tissue now // a junk horse / rebuilding.”
6. Randall Williams lives in a cabin in the woods in Hillsborough near a large pond surrounded hardwood forest. Some day he might float a bonfire out in that pond that would light up pages from which people might read poems.
7. “are you earth or geologist? // From the basement, permits / to touch unpainted sculptures // didactic or otherwise cross-legged / an electrical outlet makes the bed possible / the moon looks so ridiculous again”
8. Once Randall put himself into two boxes simultaneously. One spun in the air and held his vague form; the other bounced from a screen as light.
9. “each thought contains a thousand ignorable vistas / and one California diner // what is operative is often / the static point of relation // a salt shaker, for instance”
10. Randall’s ukulele came from Hawaii; Randall was with it; the ukulele was not afraid even though Randall once owned a car called a Fury.
11. “I sliced through various roots. It lifted its legs as if bound, hog tied or stretching. Left eye, right eye, left eye, right eye. Do they really think violent acts are not surrounded by household objects? It appeared to be leaping. If there’s one thing chickens are good for”
12. Randall has guns, and his guns are two places simultaneously: one, the gun is in your hand; two, the olive can jumps.
13. “Cicada, open this ambition / I am frightened of firings / I am moved by cold pocket watches // Confounded by severances”
14. Randall has been out of North Carolina for only a small part of his life; North Carolina has never been out of Randall.
15. “Could we please just save the unborn of Baghdad? Gaseous globe, ambition, her father is a theme sweater made of state lines while I am crumpled light. Black ink on a white tortoise shell, my fingers slowly enter the crowed noon. George lays a card on each swan’s back.”
16. Randall has many chickens; most of them are actually roosters; he eats one occasionally.
17. “A rope descends in such a way as to make the stage real. Ten thousand eyes on a plastic box. And inside this box, a tiny bit of sky formed into thighs. // When your hair meets dusk, I am a pinprick coming through a wooden box camera.”
18. Randall’s poetics is one of extreme pressure, extreme pressure and openness, extreme pressure on language and extreme openness to a fluid view of myth-making – Randall’s poetics is like the pond he lives near and the boxes he appeared in and the ukulele which follows him and like the Fury and like his simultaneous guns and North Carolina and his chickens
19. “to see (see) white / her lines / of 34 / fabricated, odd / what every phrase is not // a bursting forth cyclically / onto the deck / through the ghosts”
20. Please welcome Randall Williams.

21. In “Pastorelle 7” John Taggart writes, “the problem is not finding a rock there are / many // the problem is not turning / into a rock // the problem is a problem of how / far how far can I throw myself” and in his earlier collection When the Saints he writes, “the subject was roses the problem is memory / that was the subject roses piled to burn / … / the problem is memory the problem a problema / the problem a problema a problem to find / a problem to find the unknown”
22. Of the many problems that Taggart’s work engages one of the more fundamental is, as he says, the problem of finding the unknown within what we know, the problem of extending beyond the forms we know into a place where discovery is possible, even inevitable.
23. From “Inside Out”: “It is you who have to hear it is you who have to hear it / is you who have to sit under the singing of the bird it is / you who have to sit in the court of / the bird to assent to the singing as prayer / being heard it is you who have to / sit in a kind of silence in a kind of / silence in which the singing may endure in / which the singing only the singing may endure in you.”
24. John Taggart is the author of the poetry collections When the Saints, Loop, Standing Wave, Peace on Earth, and others, most recently he published Pastorelles which the late Robert Creeley described as “making particular the mind and heart’s persistent need.” In addition, Taggart is the author of Remaining in Light, a study of the paintings of Edward Hopper. He also was the founder and editor of the acclaimed literary journal Maps. A two time NEA Fellow in Literature, several years ago he retired from the interdisciplinary faculty at Shippensburg State University in Pennsylvania.
25. He writes in “Henry David Thoreau/Sonny Rollins”: “for two years / alone with the alone // alone with the alone saxophone / in the air / alone in the night air and high above the East River / heimarmene and black water of the river // without a you to do a something to me / without a song in the air.”
26. Poetry’s roots are in song, and Taggart writes at those roots with the use of repetition that calls to mind the evolving melodic phrases that give shape to much improvised music. It is his use of repetition that has become a hallmark of Taggart’s work and for many years set him apart from any of the various contemporary poetic camps.
27. “To breathe through the mouth to breathe through the / mouth to breathe to sing to / sing in the most quiet way to / sing the seeds in the earth breathe forth / not to whisper the seeds not to whisper in the earth / to sing the seeds in the earth the most quiet way to / sing the seeds in the earth breathe forth.”
28. We might wonder where Taggart’s focus on form and repetition might originate, and to find an answer, we might just look around, look around and see the fundamental way in which we are part of and reside within an endlessly repeating and varying form.
29. He writes in “At the Counters’ Ball”: “after the ball is over back in their counting houses / the counters will be counting what’s lost // and all the counters are laughing because I asked Emily ‘do I repeat / myself’ and she said ‘very well’ and they’re dancing”
30. Please welcome John Taggart.

Old Introductions: Tessa Joseph & Brent Cunningham
(Chris Vitiello Introduced Brent)

5. “The new girl is a story / The new girl is a net full of lobsters // A spilled glass of marbles / A floor slick with oil // Her face is an etching / Her bones dense as fossils // One eye is an angel’s / No color at all” – Tessa Joseph is not the new girl, but she did write the poem, called “Crush,” with these lines: “She will love you until you are sticky. / She will drink all your schnapps. // She will drop you. She will / kiss your eyes.”
6. Joseph may not be the new girl from the poem, but she does know all about lobsters having grown up in Maine – what she has been doing in the middle of North Carolina for so many years now is anyone’s guess. She has, though, found ways to occupy her time, chief among them being her work on a doctorate in English at Carolina, leading the Area Two faculty of the North Carolina Governor’s School, teaching hot (Bikram) yoga to the Triangle’s most flexible, and enthusiastically engaging with the local poetry community.
7. Joseph’s geographical history echoes throughout her poems – references to maps, places, houses, and landscapes abound: “The desert is a tin of air.” Physical, poetic, and metaphoric lines connect and recross these spaces – at times literally as in “October 2”: “What use / thumbing tacks to the map with thread between? Always, the line // slacks into curve: some grace there.”
8. At times the map is also a history as in “We Used to Live”: “Seventeen paces between house and outhouse, / twenty-four from house to fire-ring. Behind, // gunshot, cicadas’ swell.”
9. Amongst these lines Joseph also traces circles of intimacy, pockets of domestic connection that the maps lead into and away from. In “Entertaining” she writes, “You’re a honey. Thank you. /…/ For talking to // my awkward friend. // For upsetting the toothpicks. / You are precious… You are. No you are… Oh you / enchant.” And in “Toward”: “One day I wake up and I am from another country. / Everything that comes out of your mouth is in some other language, // and it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, all / before between beneath and of this and toward that.”
10. Joseph’s is a lyrical geography which calls to mind the work of Michael Palmer and A. R. Ammons. She writes in “Portrait of Something”: “The frame’s / always the weather, pale, / paper-dry, beyond // consideration.” And in “Encyclopediac”: “Love, oh love. Blue milk sliding / down the backs of your legs… A breath / moves over the desert, through / a sheet of glass with red light sinking / down it.” And, as if to define this lyrical impulse, she writes: “Grace loops / and shimmers. It does not direct.”
11. And so there is a tension in Joseph’s work between the map, the directions, the intention, the desire and the burned reality explored in a poem like “Walking Around the Ruin”: “Ghosts of windows where windows are gone.” Between these things, lyricism moves like a mother of sorts: soothing burns with beauty and teaching lessons with the sharp edges of words: “Your head is full of sharks, bees, / severed limbs, and other // nesting things.”
12. Finally, the narrator has moments of clarity in which the necessity of this trinity that cycles through the poems becomes clear as in “The Hands of the Dying” in which the narrator addresses a lover about death – “It takes something, doesn’t it, / to grin and flop // and do you last. Something, / to wear that old thing well … Oh, lord, / love, there is so much going, so much going, / so much going / on.”
13. Please welcome Tessa Joseph

Old Introductions: Brenda Coultas & Marcus Slease

6. Brenda Coultas writes, “Something brown, square, and made of fabric, can’t remember what it was: clothes on hangers as if for sale and hanging on gate in snow, tilted firescape held up with rope, mail cart with bucket inside, lump under cover next to shopping cart chained up” and so opens her poem “Sightings.”
7. Like many of Coultas’s poems, “Sightings” concern is with the physical, with cataloging the detritus of our lives: the contents of dumpsters, trashcans, junk yards, dumps, and, in “The Bowery Project,” the contents of New York City’s flophouses. The “lump under cover next to shopping cart” described in “Sightings” is likely one of the many thrown away people drifting at the edges of our periphery that Coultas’s work rigorously documents.
8. She writes, “Some will say it’s all been done before, and that other have done better but still I stack things up. I don’t think about it, I put blinders on but hope that through accumulation they’ll form a pattern out of chaos.”
9. Coultas is the author of A Handmade Museum which was selected by Lyn Hejinian as the 2004 Poetry Society of America’s First Book Award winner. This year she was selected as a Fellow by the New York Foundation for the Arts. A former farmer, carny, taffy maker, park ranger, waitress in a disco ballroom, and the second woman welder in Firestone Steel’s history, Coultas is also the author of the short story collection Early Films.
10. “My own tale is of walking and observing, of imagining. I was not homeless or passed out on the sidewalk, but maybe I was drunk on the Bowery once… I must have been drunk and fallen asleep and must have gotten a blanket or newspaper out of the trash and must have found a box and curled up in it and I must have built a shelter just for one night … I must have hid my face from people, which is what I do when I feel ugly or unhappy and I must have been ashamed and so although all this time I was living in full view of the public, nobody saw me.”
11. Coutlas reveals what a radical act the placing of attention can be, how we choose what we see, that our attention is incomplete. Her work cannot be reduced to something as simple as “One man’s trash another man’s treasure,” instead she is interested in the much more compelling project of revealing what happens when we see another person as trash, what is lost in the act of overlooking.
12. From this exterior, material world, Coultas travels inward: she writes in “Seedhead” – “Are we on time for the mixed breed competition? I entered as a hybrid. My human gene was spliced into a watermelon. The melon cries when cut. My sheep are organ trees. // Mr. Sheep I’d like to get to know you. Hey, I mean we’re gonna be close, like really really close. Hey you who bear my spare liver, put down that whiskey!”
13. In “Memory Jar”, she writes, “Proof exists in the smallest and most mundane of gestures. Shadows, the smell of flowers, electrical shorts, mirror reflections. It’s the most rational and common acts that yield evidence of the spirit.”
14. And so Coultas’s Handmade Museum is enacted: piece stacked on piece, word on word, the most forgettable parts of human experience documented and brought into the account, a collection of evidence meant to map the intangible human spirit.
15. She writes, “To you the reader / Be sure to carry a rose to a fire house / to carry a lit candle down the street / to hang a banner / to wear a ribbon / to visit a hospital / to walk by the wall / to read the wall // The to follow the plume of smoke as close as possible to the source.”
16. Please welcome Brenda Coultas.

17. “dame demon dunce / elf ego / lame larp latty / mangle mame / natty narp nana / oana oana / paddy paddy plarp” writes Marcus Slease in “Dandy Flap,” “voanna voanna / wana wana wance / zoanna zatty” – indeed.
18. Marcus Slease was born in Northern Ireland, moved to Las Vegas, educated in Utah, and landed a few years ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a penchant for the frayed edges of language, the places where tongues get tied on the edge of the unspeakable.
19. “the president / is an accident-prone Afghan puppy in a series of / children’s checkers / w/sham ex- / pressions of / false grief / in the / silent city.”
20. Slease does not have a puppy, but he does have some kitties, and he is a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group, has read in the Carrboro Poetry Festival, been published in Fascicle, GutCult, Octopus, Backwards City Review, and is a veteran of two cross country reading tours.
21. “Get out of words, if you can. There’s not nothing when no one speaks. Here we are on an island of unthinkable closeness.”
22. There is no getting out of words for Slease – the language of the world is always intruding into these poems, the language of commerce, of pop culture, of advertising, of philosophy, of the surreal, of history, German, English, Latin, and slang – all these tongues joust for position within his poems.
23. “the Latin for seethe. the German for broken. the Spanish for upsurge. in other in otter we trust. rough house & bed living. the Russian for clock. the Irish for bell.” “have rug: will bum. have soap: will rub. have socket: will poke. have saint: will faint. have choice: will voice. have claim: will amp. have humps: will bump. have prong: will wrong.”
24. With all these tongues at his disposal, Slease creates freakish worlds that often seem eerily like our own world except that in his worlds oxygen has been replaced with nitrous oxide.
25. “My mother gave a hoot and knew the stakes. More and more men headed toward the lake and formed a daisy chain while others welded jazz into the ceiling. This is getaway wreckage for the not so physically fit. Inside the house: a model 1 bed with a lime green sheet and some nervous toiletries. Unfortunately the landlord was besieged after a supernatural attack.”
26. Slease has been a great presence in the local poetry community despite his uncanny ability to find and buy any book worth owning within a two hundred mile radius of whatever position he might occupy.
27. He writes, “I used to be / very funny but / now I’m / very beautiful”, which is not, of course, true: Marcus is very funny and very beautiful.
28. Please welcome Marcus Slease.

Old Introductions: Lee Ann Brown & Carl Martin

4. As the preeminent literary critic Ken Rumble once wrote of Lee Ann Brown, her poems combine “adroit ability with an expansive range of styles.” And I was right. Or as Brown writes herself, “It’s about really listening to /// When I listen to myself // I hear the world” and later, as if a skipping record, “The single solitary singer // is not -- // is not tuned into // one frequency only.” And thus it is in these poems that the speakers, and there are many, see the possible inside every impossible.
5. Lee Ann Brown is a poet, film maker, and publisher and received her early training in these trades here in North Carolina. Raised in fair, windy Charlotte, Lee Ann has returned recently for a residency in Asheville. Her first collection of poems, Polyverse, was selected as part of the New American Poetry Series in 1999; her second book, The Sleep that Changed Everything, was published in 2003 by Wesleyan University Press. Lee Ann also holds what some might call an honor: she was the very first poet presented in the Desert City Poetry Series.
6. “Desire is the ground / from which we act,” she writes in “Desire Device” and that theme, desire, coupled with a belief in the incantatory power of words fills Brown’s poems with transformations: “I didn’t know how / this little / song would / end / the last stanza not right / until last night / when / to change the form / to Leonine / everything / like the form / is changed / a long long line / like your sweet kisses / which liquefy / my limbs / & get better & better / impossibly / real.”
7. Play – playing with words, ideas, forms – is the method of these transformations – she writes, “way past way -- / Outer space – Meditation’s intensities // Convert play’s determining eye -- / To sight.” And later, “She said I had a ‘language problem’ / but I am just trying to let gorgeous risk in.” And again, “set down your paying work & / tongue & groove / me again.”
8. The aim of all this play is to mix and join, to create communication in the sense of communion with people and the world – she writes in “Sustain Petal”: “Come on, you who remembers your dreams / who acts upon them in this world / come you who I often and silently call / so that I may be with you / Come and sustain me / and I will sustain you / with what sustenance I have / with the curls of revolutionary quiet / with lovely baroque convolutions of thought / … / Make a new life / for those around us fully / and for those / to come // to come / To.”
9. Please welcome Lee Ann Brown.

10. In “The Vision” the opening poem of Carl Martin’s most recent collection, he writes: “The shrill, militaristic scream / of a bird / over the Baltic sea / is as dented, gray / as a warboat’s hull, its white wind / … / Watchfires at sea are an illusion, / a desert’s swill mirage / spilling into the sailor’s eye. / … / Rain seeds the water with red. / A corpse like a scarecrow rises in the sky” and thus begins a gothic journey, terrible and wonderful, through myth, history, and love. “Love terrifies when you need / one who hates, despises her love. / A cobra is poised / in the cave of Tristan and Iseult / where cherub-fresh cheeks / and liars tip the chalice.”
11. Like Lee Ann Brown, Carl Martin was raised in North Carolina, Winston-Salem specifically where he still lives. It is there where I met Carl several years ago in March when he appeared in the Desert City for the first time. Martin set out to become a painter during his time at Maharishi International University, but upon discovering the poetry of the great John Ashbery, he instead pursued poetry, creating a poetic style with roots in the baroque and expressionism. For this innovative style, Martin has received high praise from poets as diverse as Ashbery himself and formalist John Hollander.
12. The lush and surreal world that Martin describes is haunted. He writes in “Salvation’s Wraith,”: “Betrothed to silk, white lace / the long wands of the trees / bend, annoy, as they await / the promenade of bees, / … / She’ll not starve us at the well / whose maiden spirit’s wrist, / hand extended towards us, / flows with milk.” And later, “Harmonious sister with red hair, thick limbs / that sink into a death, / I Can’t imitate your teetering dance, / or sanely will your image away! / Your sinuous ballet sweeps through these halls.”
13. This velvet world is the product of a vision that recognizes that the eye is an active participant in creation. He writes in “Jupiter Flower”: “I fly like hawk or oriole over fields / of hay, the Jupiter flower / glistening soft and blue. One eye piercing sunlight, / the other stuck in the clouds.” And, “In the poet’s mind, birds click / like castanets, around the wrists / of a dancing gypsy.” And in “The Day in Graz” he writes: “The song of the trees rustles toward me: / a chameleon’s key / in the rusted lock // that whistles in the air / like wind, / and reveals a glimmering hand / bent like the neck of a swan.”
14. Through all these beautiful scenes, fearful and awed, the narrator – like Dante’s Virgil – guides us as if, as he writes in “Conversation”, with “someone whispering to us in the dark / room with the tiger spotted lily.”
15. Please welcome Carl Martin.

Old Introductions: Lisa Jarnot & Andrea Selch

5. “With a chainsaw, my girlfriend is Evel Knievel,” writes Andrea Selch in a line that exemplifies the blend of worlds that Selch’s poems distill into a solution: the worlds of domesticity and motherhood, a world of lesbian relationships and identity, the world of American entrepreneurism, pop culture, and personal and public histories. Through all these worlds the narrator is guided by desire, by passion: she writes, “Oh you honey dew / come back soon. Who cares / if it’s true but while it’s new / I’d rather my two hands / were full of you.”
6. In the not so regular world of the day to day, Selch serves as the president of Durham’s Carolina Wren Press, is a mother of two, is fluent in at least two languages, and recently returned from Philadelphia where she gave a reading with poets Erica Hunt & Evie Shockley at the Kelly Writers’ House. She earned a PhD from Duke University for her thesis on a period in the early 20th century when national radio networks kept poets on salary. The author of the chapbook Succory, Selch’s first full length collection of poems, Startling, was released last fall.
7. It is to changes in Selch’s worlds that the poems’ eye is drawn. In “The Lithuanians” she sketches the shifting passions of several generations within a family. She writes of the older generation, “It was Paris where these two exchanged vows. / And afterwards, raw oysters in their stomaches and drunk on champagne, / doctor and doctor walked the Champs Elysees / and talked of buying art.” After following this couple through their lives on the Upper East Side, the poem ends “Now, instead of quartets and Grade-A beef, / the table is set with peanut butter sandwiches, buffet style.”
8. In “Christmas at Home,” she writes, “I used to be the butch one, but now / she lifts whole oaks and splits them with one blow.” And lastly in “1979: Tearing Down the Morris House on Perth Avenue” she writes of the startling evolution of a family home into a monastery into a building waiting for destruction: “In the wet bar stands a marble altar and walnut kneeler; / the gown room's been a dormitory; the closets, vestiaries.”
9. Throughout these changes her poems locate and search for a place of stability, connection. She writes of another mother’s visits: “every afternoon / they come here: five slender gray ones, / coffee muzzles, white tails twitching. / The two who just two months ago were fawns / dare to nibble on the lawn”, and a home decorated for the winter: “the front door creaks under garlands and wreaths. / This year we won’t brave the river or cross the woods.” And finally in “First Words to My Son” she writes, “here, let me take the bannister, / study each stair: Let nothing disturb you / nor ruffle a single russet hair.”
10. Please welcome Andrea Selch.

11. “I am barbecuing eucalyptus pigs of hills and brightly colored housetops, I am waiting for my senses to come back, I am a cabbalistic moment all in black, I am your drunken Irish brother and the plantains on the lawn, I am the tourists hoarding sharks teeth, I am the empty grain silos of Bernal Heights and god, and I am you on the back of a motorcycle crossing Dolores in the pineapple groves of Elvis Costello, sleeping all night, inside the artificialist lagoons, beyond the palm trees, I am a drag queen named Heather not quite ready for New York.”
12. I am Ken Rumble, and I am introducing you to Lisa Jarnot.
13. “I will make you understand, I, being who I am will make you understand who I am, on a Sunday.”
14. This Lisa Jarnot is the same Lisa Jarnot who wrote a poem called “Lisa Jarnot.” This is the Lisa Jarnot who wrote three books – Some Other Kind of Mission, Ring of Fire, and Black Dog Songs – all by Lisa Jarnot.
15. “You, armadillo, the dark and stately shape of armadillo, the street the shape of armadillo.”
16. “I am traveling to edges made of night, I am not sure where I am and I am traveling to edges made of rock in the avocado night, I am traveling to the edges to the plane to where I am to cross the parking lot to stand upon the median to edges made of rock in avocado night.”
17. This Lisa Jarnot is knitting hats – she is not knitting hats now – she is knitting hats, one each to commemorate each US soldier killed in Iraq. Lisa Jarnot is sitting in this room and uses her web log which is sitting in cybespace to protest the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current administration, the Lisa Jarnot who wrote the poem “Swamp Formalism” for Donald Rumsfeld who has received several letters from Lisa Jarnot.
18. “As if they were not men, / amphibious, gill-like, with / wings, as if they were / sunning on the rocks, in a / new day with their flickered / lizard tongues.”
19. And for Dick Cheney, “Dumb Duke Death”
20. “chimp chore / damp dank / death do / dead deal / duck”
21. The poems written by Lisa Jarnot take small moments -- mammal moments, bird moments, love moments – moments Lisa Jarnot has seen, read, and heard about, takes these moments and peels them like an artichoke, peels moments and words and mammals and things like artichokes because there are so many things and artichokes and words and mammals and words like everything mean everything.
22. “They lover to go on unmistaken, that they loved to not to be gratuitous or cry, that they loved the fortitude of yaks, that suddenly they loved the whiskey and the sunlight and the key, that they loved the corn cow and the cow corn that it ate, that they loved the cat food as it rolled across the floor … that they knew they loved the river that was made where people dream.”
23. An agoraphobic writer named Robyn Taylor is not Lisa Jarnot, but Lisa Jarnot pretended to be Robyn in the award winning film The Time We Killed directed by Jennifer Reeves about the days in New York after September 11th. Robyn says in that film, “Terrorism got me out of the house, the war on terror drove me back in.”
24. The following lines written by Lisa Jarnot sum up some ideas of Lisa Jarnot: “In this most perfect rhyme / that takes up what it sees, / with perfect shelter from the / rain as perfect as can be … in these most perfect habits / of the waving of the trees, / through this imperfect language / rides a perfect brilliancy.”
25. I am Ken Rumble and I am asking you to please welcome Lisa Jarnot.

Old Introductions: Kent Johnson & Patrick Herron

5. As the American social critic H. L. Mencken once wrote, “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.” By this definition, we have fewer better examples of a radical poet than Carrboro Poet Laureate, Patrick Herron, and few finer documents of such radicalism as Herron’s recently published The American Godwar Complex.
6. Herron writes, “Damnation! Freedom is not the right to put asunder the views / of any one star that glows and stands in one nation under”
7. Among a variety of things more and less sordid, Patrick Herron is the poet laureate of Carrboro, a position which under his leadership has become a life-long appointment. Herron also established last June the Carrboro Poetry Festival, an event which was so successful it has quickly achieved the status of legend. In addition to starting the Poetry Festival last summer, Patrick found himself the father of a lovely Herronista, Sophia.
8. While Herron’s poems often attack our country and culture’s failings – such as in his poem “Anus II: The George W. Bush Rap” where he writes in the voice of our president “Deceit is what I bring, and what I excrete is right-wing / crap. I’ll bitch-slap your ass if you don’t make me king” or in his poem “Rwanda” where he writes “America: your mind mauls the earth, strip mine the plain with plain strip malls, your time yet another vulcanized tread on another mother’s back” -- alongside poems such as this are Herron’s poems that explore the fear of our increasing inhumanity in our technological age.
9. He writes, in a section of his manuscript Be Somebody, “you pass right through 01 / whether ghost or spirit. Degrade me / Force me to digit your binary spine. / Can you hold 01? 01 is infinitely // less than air.” In another poem “If” Herron writes of the death of a friend, “if you filled empty picture frame cut from ash you built me / if you died friend but carved me no mask I may wear to face these calling stars.” And then in “Zero Zero” he writes, “sometimes you get to wondering too late / just how it is you are born to a certain life / one day there you are you are there whereever it is, a / dirt floor, a hospital bed, in front of a television / to the tune of a brash jingle. place x. or maybe you wake up / decide to join a monastery and find a new family because you are / lonely.”
10. It is Herron’s passion, whether expressed in his poems as anger or fear, that makes Patrick such a worthy and dedicated advocate of poetry and authentic human interaction.
11. He offers the following advice in “Politiku 1”: “Word from our sponsors: / please place your television / on the ocean floor.”
12. Please welcome Patrick Herron.

13. About Kent Johnson, Stanton High’s Coach Bob Mason said: "Defense and rebounding are two of the foundations in our program. Kent epitomizes how we value these aspects of the game. He never backs down from a challenge and is always ready to go after opposing post players." It is this exact persistence which Mason describes that has launched Johnson into the winner’s circle of American Poetry time and time again. Or to use Dr. Johnson’s own words, “Form**emptiness (Buddhism, blah, blah, blah.)”
14. When Kent, a 6’5”, 200 lb power forward with an average of three rebounds a game, isn’t busy teaching “Spanish and remedial English” at Highlands community college in Illinois, he dedicates himself to the safety of his fellow poets. He writes in a poem titled for his contemporary “Peter Gizzi”, “And I always / want to wave my arms and yell, really loud: / "Watch out Peter Gizzi, you young and handsome / minstrel, watch out-don't be like Michael / Jackson and let your hair catch on fire!"”
15. Though allegations exist that would cast doubt on the content of his real intentions towards his fellow poets – see the appendix to The Miseries of Poetry his Traductions with the late, single-horned Alexandra Papaditsas – Dr. Johnson is reknown for his “intriguing ideas for creating realistic ground cover, trees, bushes, rocks, water and other scenery details which are ideal for beginning model railroaders.” Or in other words, “I got drunk with Kent Johnson in Monroe, Wisconsin, and I'm one of the publishers of this book. So maybe those two things will disqualify anything I say here. But for the record, which erases itself every 15 seconds, these little Miseries are to die for.”
16. Kent Johnson established K.J. Transportation in 1973 with one tractor-trailer hauling tomato paste for Ragu Foods. It is in the midst of these long nights, that his work for Ragu Foods became the inspiration for his study of the Japanese form of poetry known as the Renga, the resulting mastery of which he put to Stygian use in his editing of the moving volume Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada. Quoting that volume: “She told me then that the master of the house had left for a certain location in town and that I had better look for him there pronto, if I desired to speak to him // everybody was fucking overjoyed to see him, as if he had returned from the dead.”
17. All is not grey in the life of Kent Johnson, however, to quote his obituary, “He worked in construction and cement finishing. He loved fishing and living near mountains and rivers.”
18. In addition, Dr. Johnson has written some of the most memorable poetic critiques of the current war in Iraq. His poem “Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz: Or Get the Hood Back On” powerfully invokes our complicity with the atrocities committed in that conflict; he writes, “Hi there, Madid, I’m an American poet, twentyish, early to mid-thirtyish, fortyish to seventyish, I’ve had poems on the Poets Against the War website … I voted for Clinton, even though I know he bombed you a lot, too, sorry about that, and I know I live quite nicely off the fruits of a dying imperium … And because nothing is simple in this world, and because no one gets out unscathed, I’m going to just be completely candid with you: I’m going to box your ears with two big books of poems … and I’m going to do it until your brain swells to the size of a basketball and you die like the fucking lion for real. You’ll never make it to MI because that’s the breaks; poetry is hard, and people go up in flames for lack of it everyday.”
19. Finally we might imagine, now, Kent sitting at a bar, cigarette in hand, watching a thick perfect smoke ring floating away, while he intones, “Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.”
20. Please welcome Kent Johnson.

Old Introductions: Cole Swensen & Chris Vitiello

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.

Old Introductions: Standard Schaefer, Marcos Canteli & Rachel Price

5. “azoradas / imagenes fijas // cobran un punto de claridad sobre la nieve / al reunirlo todo /// cuando se ajustan incluso mis / ojos lo advierten: luz sombra fisicamente / enrejadas // esta atencion / del cuerpo / ensambla lo mirado” writes Marcos Canteli in “pespuntes” which is dedicated to the great American poet Robert Creeley. Or as Rachel Price has translated the poem, called “Backstitches” in English: “astonished / frozen images // assume a pointed clarity on the snow / gathering all together /// when they adjust even my eyes / take notice: light shadow physically / latticed // this bodily / attention / assembles the seen.”
6. Marcos Canteli has had an eventful few weeks recently: he passed his graduate school preliminary exams at Duke, he got married (congratulations), and his third collection of poetry Su Sombrio was awarded the Ciudad de Burgos award, one of Spain’s premiere literary prizes.
7. With Rachel Price, Canteli has been working on translating his work into English. Tonight we are lucky enough to hear both the Spanish and English versions of the poems.
8. Canteli and Price met at Duke where she is also in graduate school. Price is pursuing her doctorate in the Literature Program and just yesterday finished her own preliminary exams. In addition to translating Canteli’s poems, she is working on a translation of the Brazilian poet Francisco Alvim. Her translations or poems and short stories and her own critical essays have been published in magazines and journals including the American Poetry Web.
9. Like those of Robert Creeley to whom “Backstitches” is dedicated, Canteli’s poems “assemble the seen” through “bodily attention.” The world of the self that is felt and the world of the other that is seen are connected by a mirrored physicality. He writes further in “Backstitches”: “that an air arise in the exterior on par with / this lung / the fall a cross / of eyes and ears as it fades.” The thread, the stitches, is thought: “the skin / lit up, its creases seared in / thought.”
10. The persona of these poems is an explorer, a searcher who opens layers of ambiguity. He writes “Morning and night I would hear birds to find myself trembling in the road with the corpses of the smallest of animals.” Later, in “Morning: Hintz Road” he writes “or the faces / on the sidewalks, they say we were once / like that was there / another morning like this one? your / anorak comes suddenly to me / or mine / on your body.”
11. Knowledge is concrete in these poems; while the mind ponders, events unfurl despite the mind’s grasp or lack of the significance. He writes “a traffic / of images that would come to be / real not here but on / their way, doubling / that time / when the real perhaps may be only / that time.”
12. The bind, finally, is that between the delicate images that Canteli suspends within these poems he writes “Passing into breathing I understand that my place is this gathered skin, exempt from words.”
13. Please welcome Marcos Canteli and Rachel Price.

14. “After an evening spent splitting quarks to quills, one solitary oval grew weary and slipped his fingers between the covers of a crude and common book.”
15. Standard Schaefer is not an oval, though he splits quarks to quills in his poems.
16. “The angel of history is the power to retaliate, possibly to disappear / if even into little sweaters stitched for birds, but I’m sorry to disturb you - / I thought we might share this – nothing to lose except our conundrums.”
17. Standard Schaefer is the author of Nova, which was a National Poetry Series selection, and Water & Power, which is forthcoming for Agincourt Press, both of which revel, in fact, in piling conundrum on top of conundrum.
18. “syllables whistle / decimals escalate / refuse to be partient or have anything to do with still or silt / on sideways afternoons in a vacant republic while letters float through the slit in the crown but end at concrete and crickets / as they collide in the cortext / where an alphabet begs to go on”
19. Standard Schaefer works as an independent journalist, contributing regularly to; he works as a teacher of creative writing and also as the non-fiction editor of the New Review of Literature; his syllables do, in fact, whistle and will collide in the cortext.
20. “a fugue state where figuration is saturated and not a big dark carpet / but a satellite of blue becoming a habit / of sight // while, we, like satellites / orbit the other side of the broom / a kind of vindication against science, / and its secret, immutable ballet.”
21. Standard Schaefer served as the editor of the literary magazines Ribot and Rhizome; his poems have appeared in Fence, New American Writing,and Aufgabe; his poems are, in fact, an immutable ballet in which the company is composed of characters derived from an intellect that rarely lacks something in which to find interest.
22. “The impossibility of giants and generals in the same room, much less the same man.”
23. Standard Schaefer lives in San Francisco with his wife, Paris, and their two beagles; his poems prove the possibility of giants and generals, astronomers and starlets, historians and alcoholics, Bacon and Beckett.
24. “it’s never too soon or early to begin”
25. So we shall begin now.
26. Please welcome Standard Schaefer.

Old Introductions: C. S. Giscombe & Jon Thompson

5. “Give witness,” writes Jon Thompson in his poem “Absolution,” “Give witness to those things beyond the eye / that define the complexion of each day / the vast tissue of connections / that decides each act.” The poems in Thompson’s just published first collection of poetry seek and give shape to that “vast tissue of connections.” His poems reveal, as he writes in “Under Water”, “a tale of tiered temples and cloistered beauty / on the very brush-stroke of cruelty.”
6. Fortunately for us, Jon lives and teaches just down the road in Raleigh. He teaches 20th century British and American literature at NC State, and during his tenure, has mentored some of the best young contemporary poets, including Aaron McCollough, Todd Sandvik, Tim Botta, and Jon Minton.
7. He also serves as the editor of the literary magazine Free Verse which consistently features thought provoking work in a range of aesthetics. He was also recently named the editor of Parlor Press’s Free Verse Editions Poetry Series.
8. Tonight we are celebrating the publication of his first volume of poetry The Book of the Floating World published in October.
9. The poems in The Book of the Floating World revolve around a series of photos of Japan during the US’s post WWII occupation taken by Thompson’s father. From these touching off points, Thompson writes of history and the world and “the unnatural musical light … breaking / in waves / over a future which is unaware.” Thompson’s poems circle our pervasive lack of awareness, our inability to see sideways in time the way a poem or a photograph can.
10. This sideways view pervades the poems in this first collection. He writes in “Double Exposure,” a poem that begins watching a man rummage in garbage, he writes, “he knows he is just in time to witness the art / by which he becomes the eater of trash / the user of refuse one of the lucky ones / and his only response is the leaden impassivity of his face / this accident he knows / but he is unaware of the accident of double exposure / whereby suddenly he is standing in a radiant field / that stretches for days / to reach some steeply-wooded mountains.”
11. In the end these poems evoke the impenetrable, unspeakable moments that cause the present. Thompson’s task – to speak the unspeakable – is impossible, but this task is met with a worthy eloquence. He writes in “Thresholds”, “the story of ascending smoke which is his story / a story in which he does not exist / a story in which the photographer of the photographer does not exist / a story in which the I that writes these lines / does not exist / a story in which the photo fades with the smoking tree / a story in which the story gets in the way / of the story that cannot be told.”
12. Please welcome Jon Thompson.

13. “I have no complaints loud or soft but know // that ceremony gets complicated out past the gates // to the city, in those integers out there it gets // uneven (meaning connected, factual, // chancy & unconnected) // hardly a blessing.”
14. Cecil Giscombe is the author of the poetry collections Here, Giscome Road, Inland, and At Large. His first non-fiction book, Into and Out of Dislocation, is a record of his search in British Columbia, the far far north, for a man who may have been a relative. His second non-fiction book, Traveling Public, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.
15. “to be at odds w/ nothing in my life / at loggerheads w/ no man or woman / to have no ritual, no quantity of value here / or over there / no gift / at something or for / anyone // but approaching as if from / close in / as if from far away, either one / (visible”
16. He is a professor at Penn State University and organizer of the Mixed Blood Reading series. He has won a Fullbright Scholarship, a fellowship from the NEA, a Pushcart award, and was selected by Adrienne Rich for the Best of American Poetry Anthology.
17. “culture was more than indefinites, it was an archipelago // of colonies, all names / had fled from memory & from the map both, // I saw typescript loose in the air all around our location when we spoke / in the dream, // the sentences disembodied but readable”
18. Born in Dayton, Ohio, he received degrees from SUNY Albany and Cornell. He has ridden his bike close to 70,000 miles in the last 25 years, waded through Penn’s Creek with his bike on his back, and shipped his bike by plane and train into and out of several different countries.
19. “To me, image is any value in the exchange. Pleasure’s accidental. In any event, it’s hard to measure and harder still to memorize, pleasure. Image stands in. To me, voice is that which gets stuck in the head, effected voice, or in between the teeth, the hiss of love.”
20. Cecil is my dear friend, mentor, and poetic compass.
21. “Having wanted to drive out to the edge, right out // to the mutest edge out there, // the mutest edge, the emptiest soundstage, // out to the invisibility there, out // to all that “up” there in Canada that took place up there-- // Giscome, B.C. all unincorporated now up // on the Upper Fraser Rd.”
22. Please welcome Cecil Giscombe.

Old Introductions: Aaron McCollough & Tony Tost

5. Throughout the various forms – and there are many -- Aaron’s poems take runs a belief, a faith really, in love. These are not love poems, though at times they are; instead these poems examine the ethics of love, the mandate to love one’s neighbor, and the fragments of prophetic vision one receives when walking through the world with love. Aaron writes in his poem “Having Rooms,” “I may not say my love is light // my love is light / I cannot see” and later in “Democrack Pistols,” he asks “make but one body / perfect; so every particular human is but a member or branch of humankind living in the light … a fit and compleat Lord of the Creation.”
6. Aaron is a southerner by birth and inclination who is currently on hiatus at the University of Michigan. On, as he calls it, the “thinking man’s dole” Aaron is working on his doctorate in Elizabethan literature and theology. This is the last, perhaps, stage in his education which has also included a Masters from NC State, a bachelor’s from the University of the South, and an MFA from the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
7. In addition to his own writing Aaron is the editor of Gut Cult magazine, the mind behind the Flowers that Glide web log, and genius, some might say super-genius, behind Good Gog records. He is the author of Welkin, winner of the 2002 Sawtooth Prize and Double Venus. His third collection, Little Ease, is forthcoming.

8. “The pieces of a day hang like mirrors?” writes Aaron in “Hence These Alarms,” and it is from these day pieces that he creates poetry, in a nest of jumbled fragments held together often by a delicately constructed iambic line.
1. The poems move from fragmented vision to fragmented vision as if we are seeing, as he writes in “Common Places”, “through breaks in a screen.”
2. He describes a torture room in “National Hotel”: “steel and leathern / fixings // touching / the battery and bedsprings,” to the German town of Mainz where Gutenberg began printing, to a quiet morning breakfast: “we reach us generous endive / we make us coffee.”
3. Aaron’s eye sees value in the combination of disparate images: the cherry tree in the yard: “not a lot of sunlight on the cherries; / orange almost to the stem then deep red / aureoles”, to bee hives “letting go some bees today / the old man kept in slatted wooden crates / obtaining to the husbandry of bees.”
4. The drive to encompass vast ranges of landscape rises from a profound understanding that it is in the entirety and unity of creation that one finds beauty and purpose. The title of his second collection, Double Venus, highlights this belief in the fundamental and simultaneous singularity and multiplicity of us all. Aaron’s goal in his poetry is to help us reach the point where we are, as he writes in “Having Rooms”, where we are “understanding / ourselves as / one presence / beyond the shadow.”
9. Please welcome Aaron McCollough.

10. A highly esteemed critic of poetry once described Tony Tost’s first book of poetry as “a congeries of brazen worlds, inhabited by wide-eyed lost souls.” These souls are weeping animals, irate mothers, a narrator who “lives in the clouds, only to find [himself] thirsty”, another that thinks “being nice did not always work like magic” while flying through a windshield, Friedrich Nietzsche, a blind dog regarded “as most would a storm”, semi-sentient beards, and a woman named Agnes who at times is an airport waitress, “the sign pointing up the road”, and a Delphic oracle.
11. We’re quite fortunate to have Tony living here in the Chapel Hill area. As one of the most intelligent and talented young poets writing today, Tony has been an exciting part of the literary community. He is generous with his intelligence as demonstrated by the candor and vigor that he brings to his entries in his web log, the Unquiet Grave.
12. Tony came to the triangle from Missouri via the University of Arkansas where he received his MFA. He also picked up his wonderful fiancée, Leigh, whom he will marry in early June.
13. Tost’s first book, Invisible Bride, won the highly coveted 2003 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. He is also the editor of the poetry journal Octopus. His own poems have appeared in poetry journals like Fence, Spinning Jenny, Typo, among others.
14. Like the surrealists, Tony’s poems seek truth in experiments with the strange, in a derangement of the senses that might lead one to the universal truths. The uncanny images in which these poems traffic are haunting because we see something almost more than real in their irrationality. Such that when he writes “I was once a small place filled with hats” we can understand exactly what he means; that this is not a metaphor, but a true statement that can be said no other way. And so it is that Tost’s poems feel inevitable; each move from image to image, line to line seems like the inexorable movement of the sun.
1. He writes, “We talked (and bruises had been sprouting on our legs like light-green dandelions)” and later “I was born holding a demons hand. This is why I always enter a room dancing” and even later “winter absorbs a man in such a way as to nearly dissolve the wolf inside him.”
2. In each line of Tony’s poems a new cosmology is formed as when he writes in “Unawares” “If two objects are neaby in one direction, then a world separates them in the other: the ghost distance” and then “He walks into the bedroom. Agnes is asleep; before him is another Tony. This one looks like a ghost and patiently writes in Tony’s notebook.”
15. The original title for Invisible Bride was Unawares and it is this idea that both titles express: the shadow world, the ghost world that exists a half step behind the world we think we live in – this other world that creates the one we think we inhabit. He writes “I, too, shall wear my own howling. But tonight I am dressed like a man.”
16. Please welcome Tony Tost.

Old Introductions: Jim Brasfield & Joe Donahue

# Last January when I introduced Joe in the Desert City I compared his work to the of T. S. Eliot; after getting to know Joe’s better, it’s clear to me that the other great 20th century poet Donahue can be aligned with is Robert Duncan, who mapped the coincidence of the physical, spiritual, and mental landscape in his poems. Duncan writes in one of his most famous poems “Often I am permitted to return to a meadow / as if it were a scene made-up by the mind, / that is not mine, but is a made place, // that is mine, it is so near to the heart, / an eternal pasture folded in all thought / so that there is a hall therein // that is a made place, created by light / wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.” It is in this same meadow, or field, that Joe Donahue’s poems begin their search: their exploration of creation, of all of our own individual realizations of the world which in turn manifest the greater world of which we are all a part.
# It’s great to have Joe Donahue here not only to read tonight, but as a member of the Triangle community. Over the last several months, Joe has become an invaluable mentor for many of us local poets here, a trusted source of information and an intelligent and wry bar companion.
# During the day Joe teaches literature and writing at Duke. He came here most recently from Seattle after spending many years in New York where he received his PhD from Columbia University
# Donahue is the editor of several anthologies regarding contemporary poetry as well as the author of five collections of his own work. Among his collections are World Well Broken, Terra Lucida, and in spring of 2003 Incidental Eclipse. Among other things, tonight we are celebrating the publication just last week of his sixth collection of poems In this Paradise, published by Carolina Wren Press.
# Incidental Eclipse is singular in it’s ability to pull together such loosely connected images as a woman, Christ-like, that “steps onto the lava flow,” a fighter pilot explaining the magic of “ducting” : “suddenly beyond our range a continent would flash then disappear”, and the transcendent moment “At dawn all distance comes to a burning point our bodies no more than invisible currents where the light turns gold as ice on a mountain.” Donahue asks for reconciliation of these contradictory images through science and prayer: “Let autopsies open the chambers of our hearts. Let men of science find in our nerves the likeness of pillar and scourge”; “Come to me, truth of the sun, through some opening in my head.”
# Continuing the ambiguity explored in Incidental Eclipse, the clear and shining geography of Joe's latest collection, In This Paradise, is continually being created or destroyed. In each case, visions of Eden shine between the cracks in perception. From their origin in a wasteland, these poems hold out simultaneously the paradise we live in as it is being destroyed, and the paradise we are moving towards, that we are becoming. Donahue's roving eye finds that every fragment of divinity, of truth, "continues the Creation. // Every scrap & tatter of a true image / proves the world has never yet been complete."
<>Donahue’s poems read like passages that have been lost from holy scripture; they intimate an architecture of a shadowy paradise. Donahue does not provide a map for this paradise -- but where he looks, hidden continents appear.
Please welcome Joseph Donahue.
# At the root of Jim Brasfield’s poems is the belief that nothing is more strange, magical, and delightful than the sticks and stones of daily human life, that through the most careful observation of experience we can receive revelations. In his poem “Only to Listen” for example, a seemingly random assortment of night sounds is revealed to be a traveler from another life. He writes “I woke with a story from the dark. / I met a household of disbelief.”

1. Originally from Savannah, Georgia, James Brasfield has spent the last seventeen years in State College, Pennsylvania, teaching at Penn State University.
2. He has received an artist’s fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and has twice been a Fullbright Scholar in the Ukraine.
3. During his time in the Ukraine, Jim met and began to work as a translator with the Ukrainian poet Oleh Lysheha.
4. Their collaborations were eventually published in 2000 by Harvard University Press as The Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha, for which manuscript they won both the Pushcart and the PEN Awards in Translation.
5. His own poems have appeared in the Agni, Black Warrior Review, Chicago Review, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry Wales, among others.

# Whether it’s in his translations or his own poems, Jim’s aim is for the sublime and, like Emerson, the ecstatic. In “The Chair and the Pipe” a poem that imagines a conversation between Van Gogh and his brother Theo, Brasfield writes “Snow falls, each flake a crystal petal. // Each branch gathers up its layer. / Seeds from the sunflower / lay eclipsed in the frostburnt herbs.” From within this vision of ice and fire and ash Van Gogh sees “the still deeper shades of black unending” waiting to be created with sacks of ash into “garden, field, and sky.”
# What hinders access to the ecstatic state is our disbelief that it exists. Though it is always there, we seldom return to it. In Brasfield’s “The Blue Cottage” he represents the state of transcendence as an empty house found in the woods “Past the peonies / about to blossom, the roses in bloom, you pressed / your open hands to the clean glass, / resting your forehead on your spread fingers. / Each point of touch was an island of flesh on the pane. / You felt no fear, no anxiety of return.”
# It is, ultimately in Brasfield’s poems, a “return of the recognizable” – what the world around us provides, gives us access to, is the real world, the eternal world of sublime and ecstatic experience.
# Please welcome Jim Brasfield.

Friday, January 05, 2007

In Need of the Healing: Zombie Poems on Rock Heals

Putting the "brrrrraaaaaaiiiiiiinnnnnzzzzzz-uuuuuhhhhhhhh" in contemporary poetry since ought-4 or so: Rock Heals & my zombie poem.

Thanks, JGP!