Monday, July 25, 2005

An elliptical treatise on F7

This will probably be my last post until next week, because on Wednesday, I'll be setting out on a poetry reading tour with other members of Lucifer Poetics. The schedule is below:

Wednesday, July 27, 7pm:
Red Emma's Bookstore
800 St. Paul Street
Baltimore
410-230-0450
http://www.redemmas.org/

Thursday, July 28, 7 pm:
Molly's Cafe & Bookstore
1010 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 923-3367
http://mollysbooks.com/opening.html

Friday, July 29, 6 pm:
Pete's Candy Store
709 Lorimer Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 11211
(718) 302 - 3770
http://www.petescandystore.com/home2.html

Saturday, July 30, 7pm:
WEST END READING SERIES
Lost Dog Cafe & Lounge
Ithaca, NY

I'll be reading from my manuscript F7. In light of this, and the fact that within the next month or two, a couple things are happening that will dramatically enhance F7's visibility in the poetic community and the world at large, I'd like to expand upon some of F7's practical and theoretical dimensions. I will begin by describing its origin and its essential processes.

It's been said many times that a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters would eventually, by sheer chance, produce Shakespeare. More fascinating to me is the idea that these same monkeys would, with equal probability, produce great works that have not yet been written. Borges embodied this idea in a physical space in his Library of Babel, a great, seemingly infinite hive-like structure, filled with books that contain every possible permutation of language known to man. As a young man reading this story in the 21st century, it's natural to imagine the Library of Babel as a computer. As a writer and a human being, I find this idea both exhilarating and slightly terrifying: A powerful computer running through different permutations of language could, theoretically, eventually produce scientific and philosophical breakthoughs simply by chancing across the correct combination of words. This was the initial spark for F7 - I wanted to begin to exhume the shadow narratives latent in our technology, specifically, from the linguistic databases programmed into our machines, and generally, from the great unruly babble (Babel) of the Internet.

I began by simply typing meaningless clusters of letters, then using Microsoft Word's spellcheck function (which is triggered with the F7 key, hence the name of the manuscript) as a palette to determine which words would comprise the final poem. But I quickly discovered that typing random clusters is harder than it sounds - certain typing motions are so entrenched in my hands that I found myself accidentally typing actual words, or typing the same clusters over and over again. I then resorted to various methods to confound this programming, including turning the keyboard in different directions, misorienting my hands on the keys, crossing my hands at the wrist before typing, and devising various patterns in which to move over the keyboard. (An example of the last, entitled "11 kHz", can be found below on this blog.)

Then I began to look to classic forms to give these poems structure, and arrayed my nonsense language in the forms of sonnets, villanelles, pantoums, sestinas, epistles, ballads, prose poems &c.

The next evolution of the process involved getting away from unwieldy clusters and creating a sort of nonsense language, interspersed with indefinite articles, that alluded to actual words and familiar syntactic patterns. The inital language in these poems is not unlike Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, and the end results, while still largely vacant of actual sense, bear echoes of these recognizable units just beneath the surface.

The next logical step, which I threw myself into with abandon, involved bastardizing famous texts like the pledge of allegiance and the Lord's prayer, either by purposefully mispelling the words, or by breaking them at various points, then extrapolating a new text with the spellchecker that still resonates with the original in various ways. The poems produced in this manner tend to elicit the strongest audience response, since there is something thrilling about recognizable text gradually emerging from such chaos, yet they are also the least true to the spirit of F7, which I'll describe later.

The process really expanded drastically from here, as I began to use online translators, text databases, Microsoft Word's thesaurus, outline and various other built in functions, and flarf (Googled words and phrases), often feeding several processes, one into the next, within a single poem. This is where I am in the process now. After poking and prodding at it for upwards of a year without really understanding exactly what I was doing, I feel it's nearly complete - complete, in the sense that I will have soon taken it as far as I'm willing or able, not in the sense of pursuing it to its ultimate end. At this point, I'm closer than I've ever been to a comprehensive theory of F7, which I'd like to relate in its inchoate, elliptical and probably subject-to-change state, here:

"A 'mistake' is beside the point, for once anything happens it authentically is."
-John Cage

"An artifact is a mistake."
-Barrett Watten

F7 is akin to the works of the composer John Cage in numerous striking ways. For one, serial / chance operations are utilized to recede the ego, imagination, and experience of the creator, thus freeing words / sounds of an imposed value system and allowing for a more intense, less mediated experience. The emphasis is on the present moment of pure experience, not the past or future, and on the sheer being of the medium, not the influence of its creator. However, just as often as not, F7 fails in this regard - I, by accident (this is preferable, since F7 honors the accident), or by furtive choice, have found myself nudging the poems toward certain oblique, if pointed, statements about art, the academy, politics, and love.

Nevertheless, concerns of expressivity are de-emphasized. F7 denatures poetry by making no distinction between the planned effect and the accidental one, the "sonorous" tone and the "discordant", music or noise, poem or text. Any sound intoned at any point in space / time is part of universal music, the ongoing composition comprised of every sound ever made, past / present / future. Likewise, every word or sound (F7 sees no distinction between words and sounds) ever intoned, whatever its intention, is part of the ongoing poem of existence. F7 shows a tiny portion of this greater whole, being itself perhaps only a single "note" in the ongoing symphony. Ideas of truth, beauty, and other aesthetic concerns are de-emphasized so that a pure approximation of language in its raw state may be experienced. F7 has yet to attain complete unfetteredness, still busying itself with subverting established forms, locating musicality in chaos, discovering surprising logical imagery in irrational processes, &c. This intermediate phase is entirely necessary in reaching the theoretical point where language becomes pure form, pure sound, pure sense (meaning pure sensation, not logical sense), unconnected to any abstraction and existing in a singular, freestanding state.

Like the work of Cage, Gertrude Stein, and some Language poetry, F7 is democratic.At its most successful, no cues are included toward its interpretation, and no moral imperatives, so that interpretation is left entirely to the reader, the way that many Cage compositions simply set up parameters, defined by chance operations, that serve as otherwise unfettered fields of play. F7 is also democratic and collective in another sense - the spellchecker used as a palette was compiled by a group of persons unknown to the author, and the source material from the flarf poems may have been composed by anyone in the world. Anyone who puts a piece of text onto the Internet assumes potential co-authorship of F7. Anyone who has spoken a phrase or performed an action that, at whatever remote end of a chain of causality, caused someone else to put text onto the Internet, is a co-author of F7. When we see how language forms and travels collectively, we see that F7 is authored by the entire world, while I simply happen to discern, organize and record it.

Some poems in F7 can be read in multiple directions of the reader's choosing, and hopefully, in the future it will attain states that are even less determinate, that foil the act of 'reading' to the point that only 'looking', viz. experiencing without value judgements, interpretation or outside association is possible. An example of this is "Nude Fiction Index", which can be found in Volutions Magazine in a link to the right.

F7 strives to not be mimetic, although like any imperfect thing, it often fails, and despite its unusual attributes, it is a reflection of the world it inhabits. A poem constructed in a more traditional fashion, be it narrative or evocative, concerned with lyricism, meter, rhyme and sonority, truth, beauty, &c. might be conceived as a border drawn around a particular area of space - say, a window. Imagine using a grease pencil to outline the contours of the world reflected in this window. Imagine shattering the window, then reconstructing it differently, by way of chance or patterned operations. This is F7.

F7 describes not a limit, but a field of possibility on which infinite actions, reactions and combinations are possible and encouraged. F7 has limits of possibility, but an infinte number of things can occur between these limits, as an infinite number of infinitesimals stretch between the integers one and two. F7 is the limits, and everything that takes place between them, but nothing more. Therefore, F7 is both finte and infinite.

F7 is shorn of moral and intellectual intent. Any moral imperative or critique or position that arises in the text is a function of chance, not of my own intellect or values. This only obtains completely in reference to a theoretical, idealized F7, which does not yet and might never exist. This ideal F7 would completely lack syntax, image, sign, symbol, moral and political dimension, would, in essence, be an example of pure language spinning in a void. My only role would be to record it on the page.

F7 does not describe life, it is life, an event in the frame of a moment. It should be liege to neither the past or the archival / museum paradigm of the future. It should create itself anew, in and for every moment, both in its recording and its reception. Ideally, F7 might be an accidental glyph impressed upon sand, noticed, experienced but not interpreted, then washed away by a wave, only to be replaced by a new expression of F7, perhaps in the footprints of a walker on the shore.

F7 maintains that a line of email spam is as 'good', i.e. contains as much intrinsic value, as a line of composed verse.

Nothing that inhabits F7's moment is separate from it. As you read the text, any sound you hear should not be considered a distraction - it is part of F7 and F7 is part of it. Any bit of outside text you happen to read or object you see while reading F7 is part of it, as is any taste or physical sensation. This speaks to a) F7's infinite possibilities for occuring within any given moment (inhabiting the moment without displacing or dominating it) and b)its function as a thread in the tapestry that is the sum total of existence and experience.

F7 considers silence / blankness to be a value exactly equal to sound / text - not a lacuna. Therefore, any blank page (written F7) or silence (oral F7) must be considered a part of the work with a value equal to the sounded parts. It is possible that the ultimate expression of F7 is silence or a blank page, but this end cannot be jumped toward - the distance between imperfect and perfect F7 must be closed by the crossing of infinte half-spans, which, Zeno's Paradox tells us, is impossible. This is probably good for me, as a writer, since a perfect F7 would remove me from the equation completely, producing a 'text' of perfect blankness unsullied by a human influence.

F7 does not aspire to be 'musical' in the limited, traditional sense. I have no problem with the statement that 'poetry is musical', but I reject the tacit assumption that music is necessarily harmonic and melodic. Music can be a-, pan-, or proto-tonal, monotonous, dissonant, bracing, etc. In this broader sense only can F7 be described as 'musical.'

F7 is more concerned with process than with outcome, and any interest inherent in the outcome is simply a reflection of the process used to arrive at it. (Although F7 will not complain if the outcome happens to be beautiful in some weird way, which surprisingly, it often is.) The goal of F7 is momentary rapture, not historical consideration, although this rapture might take place anew at any point in history.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Slatherpuss hearts Michel Houellebecq

With the possible exception of Nicholson Baker (bonus tidbit: I've heard rumors that Neil Gaiman is working on a film adaptation of The Fermata!), I can't think of a modern novelist whose work I find more penetrating, engaging, and utterly relevant than Michel Houellebecq. That his novels produce such outrage is further proof that our current literary establishment favors platitudes over truth. There's a group called the Underground Literary Alliance who "strangely yet strongly believe that American fiction should be something relevant to people’s lives, instead of the lame, overly-wrought, navel-gazing crap that the congloms have displayed front & center at your local chain bookshop." I admire the stance, but unfortunately, the ULA has a fatal flaw - they are terrible writers. It's a given that any underground movement that threatens the establishment will have to defend themselves from establishment charges of professional jealousy ("you don't publish because you aren't good enough"), sloth ("you don't publish because you haven't worked hard enough, not because we're locking you out"), and irrelevancy ("you don't publish because you aren't giving the people what they want; we are"). These are charges the underground movement must surmount in order to affect the public sphere. Unfortunately, in the case of the ULA, at least the first and the last seem to be true. It's important that underground movements don't seem to be jealous of the position of the mainstream, which simply validates charges of sour grapes, and the ULA seems to turn out an astonishing number of shoddy poems about how bad and boring mainstream writers and networks are, and how poor and honorable the ULA is. They've gotten lost in manifesto-land, lobbing poorly-written salvos at writers they deem undeserving of fame, and have forgotten to put their manifesto into practice. They harangue on the need for a viable alternative to mainstream fiction instead of attempting to create such a thing. Sometimes, work doesn't get published because it's too adventurous or challenging for the mainstream. Sometimes, work doesn't get published because it's just bad. We, meaning those of us writing outside of established circuits of influence, need to be able to make the distinction or succumb to hubris and complacency.

This tangent has a point - Houellebecq's work is exactly the kind the ULA should be creating and championing, if they are serious about their stated mission to create fiction that directly engages with the real world of human beings. (Of course, the ULA addresses American fiction, and Houellebecq is French, but anyway...) Because of his treatment of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, his refusal to moralize, and his mainstream position, Houellebecq is one of the most dangerous, relevant writers at work today. Many "brave" novels that address social ills such as racism hedge their bets by embodying the racism in "bad" characters and setting up "good" foils. The reader is allowed to tacitly identify with the good character and damn the usually cartoonishly bad racist, then to go on about their business, unchallenged and actually congratulated for their moral superiority. But in Houellebecq books, there are no such clear distinctions, and no moral imperatives - we are all complicit. Neither does the author take a position of magesterial moral superiority for himself - his protagonists, almost always named "Michel", are just as morally questionable as any other character. Transgressive fiction is often hailed as brave, but the current trend for transgressive fiction is ambiguity - the characters commit "taboo" acts for no explicit reason, and the reader is left to intuit whatever crushing social agency - racism, sexism, suburban malaise - propelled them toward whatever unspeakable act. But when Houellebecq's characters transgress, there's nothing mysterious about it - the factors that lead to the transgression have been carefully, clearly laid out. No other writer is capturing a more stark, realistic (if bleak) vision of what it feels like to be alive, right now, without a gloss of romance or utopian revision.

Houellebecq doesn't apologize for his characters' bad behavior, nor does he couch it in abstractions. His novels are all mundane, sharply observed action, interleaved with lucid, plainspoken delineations of the political situations (globalization and its discontents) that the action flows around like water, and terse philosophical exegeses on the hopeless state of humanity under such adverse conditions. He writes with a brutal, deadpan wit and a healthy dose of misanthropy a la Celine, but what elevates his novels about those of, say, Bret Easton Ellis, is how this misanthropy is juxtaposed with flights of the wildest sentimentality. Houellebecq's characters are damned to long for love and genuine humanity within a system they wholeheartedly believe will not allow such things to exist. And to top it off, his books, despite their unfliching examination of themes that are both consummately real and terribly depressing, are hilarious. With an uncanny eye for the absurd, Houellebecq can blend penetrating cultural criticism and understated comedy to potent effect. I'll end this appreciation by quoting an illustrative passage from his novella Lanzarote (in translation, natch):

"And yet the pleasures of Lanzarote are few: in fact, they are twofold. The first, a little to the north of Guatiza, is the 'Cactus Garden'. Various specimens, selected for their repulsive morphology, are arranged along paths of volcanic rock. Fat and prickly, the cactus symbolises perfectly - not to put too fine a point on it - the abjectness of plant life. Be that as it may, the Cactus Garden is not very large and, as far as I was concerned, our visit could have been over and done with in somewhat less than half an hour; but I had taken a group excursion and we were obliged to wait for a little mustachioed Belgian. I had passed him as he stood, stock-still, staring at a huge purplish cactus in the shape of a prick, artistically planted next to two smaller, outlying cacti intended to represent its balls. I was struck by his rapt attention: this was certainly a curious phenomenon, but it was hardly unique. Other specimens brought to mind a snowflake, a man sleeping, a ewer. Perfectly adapted to their desert environment, cacti lead, if I may put it thus, a completely unfettered morphological existence. They grow alone for the most part and are therefore not compelled to adapt to the pressures of this or that plant formation. Animal predators, scarce in any case, are immediately deterred by their abundant spines. Such an absence of selective pressures makes it possible for them to develop unhindered into a complex variety of farcical shapes likely to amuse tourists. Their mimicry of the male sexual organ, in particular, always has a certain effect on Italian tourists; but in this moustachioed man, who appeared to be Belgian, things had gone too far; in this man I could discern all the signs of an out-and-out fascination."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Tristan Tzara proposed a poetry made of cut-up articles drawn from hats

scraps down universe requirements pomp
manifested in blows when then
place Tristan value Breton reason fulfill
the André flailing completely

poetry divine grandeur rather constant the peculiar
a poem perfectly printed
grandfather they constituent experience
averred paper article words or would art
interpretation disrupting and utterly mainstream

the the of verse hand was neutral
most of they wrote proper Tzara
the world personal words conceit Dada
he one defying to and not the bias
way which drawn order hat

or out of written and it’s appeared
the the be that of fate
with the would to artist
one or the cut

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Intonation Inundation

I'm way late in blogging about the Intonation Festival in Chicago last weekend - it's been met with a variety of overarchingly positive reactions (barring Kelefa Sanneh's ax-grinding snarkfest in the NY Times) in the mainstream press, focusing on how smoothly it ran and how spectator-friendly it was. My feelings on it echo Tom Breihan's musings here and here, and David Raposa unpacks the problems with Sanneh's article here. I think David nails the sort of insidious assumption inherent in Sanneh's argument, the "anti-rockist" stance that reacts against the discredited indie one of "unpopular music is better than popular music" - namely, that only music of the highest profile is worthwhile. It echoes a comment made by Xgau (who, make no mistake, I usually respect) that the Pitchfork staff is comprised of "tyros opining for chump change." I've got no real beef with the tyros part, but the insinuation that relevance is directly proportional to payscale is disappointing, coming from someone usually possessed of a more complex intellect.

I'm late in blogging about Intonation because I'm sick as hell - started coming down with a cold on Friday, held it at bay with beer, adrenaline, medicine and massive doses of water all weekend. But when I got home, sobered up, and calmed down, it blossomed into a full-blown fluish thing that's burning through Chapel Hill like a brush fire. I'm thankful that it only slowed me down a little over the weekend. My flight was delayed coming in to O'Hare on Saturday, and by the time my friends Brent and Tana (who were kind enough to let me sleep on the floor of their bedroom all weekend, and who were just amazing hosts, going out of their way to make my trip to Chicago a good one) met me at the airport, took me back to their place to clean up, and took me to lunch at a great restaurant called Earwax, it was nearly four o'clock before we made it to Union Park. The highlight of day one had to be the Go! Team, who gathered a bunch of local children (who I'd noticed dancing outside the festival gates during Broken Social Scene's set) onstage to dazzle us all with an unspeakably adorable dance party. Although my body felt battered and bruised, I rallied for long enough to swing by the staff afterparty at a remote bar called The Hideout, then collapsed on Brent and Tana's floor to sleep more deeply than I have in years. Day two was even stronger - although I arrived late again (missing Thunderbirds are Now!'s reportedly scorching set), I caught amazing sets by Dungen, Xiu Xiu (rocking the autoharp like a Strat), Out Hud (dance fucker dance), the Hold Steady (fake arena rock gone real arena rock), Deerhoof (intense and unhinged), and Les Savy Fav (the usual near-nudity and sense of impending violence). I skipped the Pitchfork hangout that night to catch up with an old friend at the Bucktown Pub. The coolest thing about it all was that while people usually only see Pitchfork's snarky, snooty side, here a truer picture of the people who make the site was writ large on the broad apron of Union Park - a bunch of people who seriously love some fucking music.

I spent Monday taking in the amazing Toulouse-Lautrec/Montmartre exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago: A collection of paintings, lithographs, proofs and drawings by artists who frequented and immortalized the vibrant, bawdy, bohemian environs of late-19th-century Montmartre, a hilltop fringe region of Paris dotted with windmills, brothels, cafes and music halls (including the iconic Moulin Rouge and Chat Noir). Besides T-L, it included works by Cheret (an important T-L influence, often credited as the father of the modern poster), Degas (T-L was a huge admirer of Degas, although the feeling was apparently not mutual), van Gogh (we can see traces of van Gogh's colorful crosshatching in many of T-L's drawings and paintings), Picasso, Casas and Steinlen (a Swiss painter and lithographer who created the iconic black cat image for Chat Noir). Through these some 250 works, a vivid picture of this precise historical moment emerges: Most striking is the despair lurking just beneath the surface of these exuberant, lurid images, a tension born of class conflict. Upper-class Parisians could escape to Montemarte for a bit of thrilling slumming, but for the brothel-workers and barmaids, there was no escape: What was a seamy diversion for the upper class was the sum of their lot in life, and the isolation and weariness undercutting the endless party is a subtle but undeniable feature of many flyers and paintings that celebrated the period.

The buzz I acquired from the exhibit was soon enough dulled by the trip home, which I mentally refer to as the "hell-berth." We boarded the plane at a little before five, but due to bad weather, we didn't take off until about eight. My seatmates were a nurse from Kansas named Bunny and her granddaughter Rainy Day, who was brutally insane. We got off to a rough start - Bunny asked if I was a Marine, and I recoiled in horror. Do I look like a Marine? But after that we chatted pleasantly enough - Bunny told me she was returning Rainy Day to her mother, a tattoo artist and musician (I did not get the whole story here, although Bunny's elliptical telling of it had elements of the sinister). Things took a turn for the worse when Bunny and Rainy Day began playing games like Rock Paper Scissors over and over, and another that I call "You're the Fishy", which pretty much entailed Rainey Day sticking her finger in Bunny's face as if it were a hook and screaming, "You're the fishy!" Having overdosed on music over the weekend, I put the Album Leaf on my iPod, which is about as close as music can get to silence. But then the battery died and I was defenseless. This was all in the first hour of the five I would spend in close quarters with Bunny and Rainy Day. At this point Bunny decided she would read Harry Potter and the Bucket of Mystery or whatever the fuck the new one is for the remainder of the trip, ignoring Rainy Day's frantic questions until the child had asked them, with increasing shrillness, at least twenty times apiece. Upon finally reaching the airport, I ran into my friend, the poet Chris Vitiello, gibbered at him incoherently about the ordeal for a few minutes, and went home to curl into the fetal position and quietly weep myself to sleep.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

11 kHz

Queer tux polo jug dais scab amok jug dad wert yoyo polka heft sass coven amok jug dad wert yoyo polka heft sax coven milk heft slaw arty quip kohl gods ax venom kohl gods

MSNBC czars sift jolt opium tyro was dug jolly knave zaps dug julep oily strew fads fight kiln bucks zaps fight slop ivy grew and khaki lung vex and khaki loin ultra esq. sift

Quiz sled café tuba hue mikes lapel klieg nobly TV Fred axes wax sled café tuba hue mikes loin kink ohm voter façade waxy maws exude fib glyph nimbus kill Loki jinn gyps

Act edgy inkle mope art vows yaw clef gin clan porn stud ways act edgy inkle mop art vows yaw act edgy inkle mop art vows yaw chef gin clan porn stun ways act edgy inkle mope art vows yaw

Qwerty tux op[] \'11 kHz fuse such bunk, ./'; kohl gods awed ratio ion[ ]\'; kohl gods ax venom ,./'; kohl gods awed try ion[ ]'11 kHz fuse such bunk, ./'; kohl gods awe try oil[

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Your Black Eye

A new issue of Your Black Eye is up. If you like criticism, poems and rejected letters to the editor couched in a non-traditional interface, this is for you.

I put up a new post at Moistworks today. If you like Johnny Cash, Razzy Bailey, The Band, Jason & the Scorchers, and breathlessly overwrought prose, this is for you.

I have a lengthier, more substanial post in mind, but it will have to wait for now. If you like martyrs, angels, and Thomas Aquinas, it will be for you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Lost Generation

There's a terrific article by Nitsuh Abebe on Pitchfork today. The Lost Generation is a detailed, beautifully written distillation of the brief yet complex history of post-rock, and will be an invaluable resource for anyone trying to get a handle on this slippery genre. It's quite long, but if you're pressed for time, even a quick skim and some notes on the listening suggestions at the end will be illuminating. I've grown to admire Nitsuh's writing quite a lot, not in the least because he's strong in areas in which I feel I'm weaker - structure, pacing etc. Nitsuh seems able to perceive complex histories as orderly grids, zeroing in on the most salient elements of his topic, and the result is a deep lucidity that's a pleasure to read. Pitchfork is still known for its snark and exuberance (although these are fading, becoming replaced by a more remote and even-handed criticism in many cases), and Nitsuh's writing seems to be an indication of where we're headed. To the good, I think.

In just a few days, I'll be heading to Chicago for the Pitchfork-sponsored Intonation festival, and the anticipation is steadily mounting. I'm excited about the bands, excited about flouncing around Chicago, excited about reconnecting with old friends. But what I seem to be most excited about is getting to spend quality time with the Pitchfork staff. I've worked with many of these people for, God, a couple years now, argued with them, joked around, and yet I've only met a few in person. It will be good to put faces with names (real-life faces, not bio headshots) and to see how people's personalities square with their message-board personae. I hope to have some good stories to blog about upon my return.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The page wants to stay white

First sentences are always the hardest - where you begin determines where you'll be able to go. But using my first sentence, in my first post on this new blog, to mention the challenges of first sentences - well, it handles that problem nicely doesn't it?

I should start by introducing myself and laying out the purpose of this blog (besides joining the modern chorus and creating a monument to my accomplishments, of course). My name is Brian Howe, I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I cobble together a living as a freelance writer, a barista, and a projectionist. Interesting but not entirely practical skills - a carpenter can walk into any town and find work. This only applies to me if someone in said town happens to need their album reviewed, their milk steamed, or their intermittent sprocket aligned. Mainly, I identify as a music critic / poet.

Right now, I contribute regularly to Pitchforkmedia.com and Paste Magazine. I also participate in a group mp3 blog at http://www.moistworks.com. I am a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group, an affiliation of modern / post-avant / experimental poets. Our membership spans the country, and on the whole our main activity is an email list for poetic discussion. But our activities are really centered here in North Carolina - we make chapbooks, have meetings, perform publically here and elsewhere in the country, and drink. In late July we'll be striking out on a reading tour through Baltimore, Philly and NYC - more on that later this month.

Right now, music blogs and poetry blogs are mostly segregated. Many poets I know are very interested in modern music, but fewer musicians/music fans seem to be interested in modern poetry. This I attribute, at least in part, to the fact that vital, interesting music has a much higher profile than vital, interesting poetry. Many people who participate in music at the ground level - the ezines, the blogs, the online communities - don't realize that there is a similar sphere in poetry. It's a sphere you wouldn't find unless you're looking for it. I believe that many people, particularly youngish people who are into cutting edge music, would find untold riches in modern poetry if they knew where to look. I'm not out to smite high-profile, academy poets. But I would like for people to know that for every MFA candidate placing lyrical meditations with seemingly arbitrary line breaks in high-end lit journals (even when these are finely wrought they might smell awfully musty to someone looking for excitement), there is a poet dreaming at the periphery of language, casting away the old forms, and creating vital, challenging, visceral work of pure linguistic energy.

Actually, strike that - I don't want to paint this as MFA poet bad, oustider poet good. There are many trained poets using their education to create astonishing, groundbreaking work, just as there are many writing capital-G Good poems that are completely devoid of new ideas and boring as hell. There are many outsider poets writing inane drivel, just as there are many who are creating some of the most novel, geniune, salient poetry around. Your education or lack thereof isn't the issue - how honestly and urgently you deploy your particular sensibility is. There is a lot of baseless self-satisfaction going around in poetry. I would like to see poetry become less sure of itself. Encyclopedias are for facts. Poetry is for poking and prodding at unknowns. But I'm wandering off topic.

The parallels between underground music and underground poetry are so strong that I'm always shocked when music critic friends ask me "Why do you bother with poetry? It's dead," (this happened), and when I venture to mention poetry in music critic circles, it's often as if I've walked into the room and farted loudly - uncomfortable silence ensues. There's nothing wrong with the latest Billy Collins poem in the New Yorker, but I would like for people to know that if it isn't your cup of tea, there are many other options, limitless options in limitless forms. To me modern poetry is similar to hip-hop, a territory that's growing to encompass all around it, and a matter more of intention than form. It seems like there's nothing you can put in a hip-hop song that makes it not hip-hop - hip-hop devours everything it touches. So it is with poetry. Poetry's popular face would have you believe it's about observing boundaries. I believe that it is about destroying them.

It's difficult being a music critic and a poet - to excel at either is a full time job, and as I've said, rarely do they intersect. I don't expect to change that on my own. But I would like for this blog to sit right on the cusp between them, to create a tentative portal via which they might interact. More to the point, both are important parts of my life, and so I'll blog about both. If some crossover happens because of it, all the better. Of course I don't want to be dogmatic, which is death to good poetry and good music, so this formal creed may wind up abandoned. I should like for this blog to be surprising and organic in its evolution. If it starts to venture elsewhere I doubt I'll be able to stop it.

That should suffice for today. I hope to update daily, so I hope you'll come by again. If you'd like to swap links, or if I've linked you and you don't want to be linked, please let me know.