Monday, February 27, 2006

Advance Warning - First I Take Brooklyn

Not only is Matt Henriksen publishing one of my poems in his new journal, Cannibal, he invited me to come and give a reading in Brooklyn, as a part of the Fall Cafe 2006 Reading Series. I'm super-jazzed!

Fall Cafe 2006 Reading Series:

The Fall Café ~ Fridays 7:30 PM
February 17th ~ Brendan Lorber & Dustin Williamson
February 26th ~ Thomas Hummel, Brenda Shaughnassy & Craig Teicher
March 17th ~ Samuel Amadon, Stephanie Anderson, & kari edwards
April 7th ~ Brian Howe & Christian Peet
May 12th ~ Anna Moschovakis & Sheila Squillante
June 16th ~ John Coletti & Stacy Szymacek


The Fall Café
307 Smith Street
Between Union & President
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
F or G to Carroll Street

Cannibal info:

Our first issue will be ready to ship April 1st.

Cannibal is 88 pages, hand-bound, with a screenprinted cover. Send your check to Matthew Henriksen/95 Clay Street, 3L/Brooklyn, NY 11222. Don't send or write the checks to Cannibal because he doesn't live here. Paypal options are fuzzily in the works.

Cannibal, 88 pages, $8
One year: $15

The First Issue:

Geoffrey Babbit
Andrea Baker
Zach Barocas
Jim Behrle
FJ Bergmann
Edmund Berrigan
Anne Boyer
Jenna Cardinale
Laura Carter
Adam Clay
Clayton Couch
Bruce Covey
AnnMarie Eldon
Jane Gregory
Anthony Hawley
Brian Howe
Brenda Iijima
Lisa Jarnot
Shannon Jonas
Erica Kaufman
Alex Lemon
Tao Lin
Rebecca Loudon
Joseph Massey
Andrew Mister
K. Silem Mohammad
Valzhyna Mort
Gina Myers
The Pines
Emma Ramey
M.L. Schultz
Sandra Simonds
Laura Solomon
Gabriella Torres
Jen Tynes
Dustin Williamson

Sunday, February 12, 2006


[read part one here]

When the sun achieves its apogee, the entire bazaar closes down for a two-hour siesta. The men go home to their wives, who have lunch simmering in cauldrons, cool drinks in condensation-beaded pitchers and, in some cases, freshly cut flowers on the checkered oilcloths covering their tables. When Bosch the Foreman blew through a conch shell to signal the beginning of siesta, Gannon rolled down the awning over his booth's façade and headed toward his home. Hours hence, Gannon's wife, who had been waiting anxiously in the kitchen with a freshly cut flower in her hair, reported to Mather the Magistrate that Gannon had not come home for siesta. The stew in the cauldron cooled and congealed; the pitcher sweated and left a circular puddle on the checkered oilcloth; the flower wilted in the fierce meridian sun, and Gannon has not been seen since.

These are the facts, insofar as we can perceive them. Lewellyn the Archivist consulted his annals and confirmed that there had not been a disappearance in our town since Fellrath the Librarian suddenly stopped coming to work and was never seen again. And this was not even a true disappearance, for Fellrath was a solitary, troubled man who disdained our town's local literature, much of which was penned by myself (Bartleby the Amanuensis, by way of late introduction); my brother, Zephyr the Belletrist; and by our own late father, Echo. Our literature consists chiefly of uplifting, instructive allegories about community solidarity and the virtues of a simple, moralistic way of life. Fellrath favored esoteric foreign volumes filled with conspiracy, betrayal, and frank depictions of carnality, or else books leaden with undercurrents of philosophy and mysticism. So no one was too surprised when he turned up missing.

Of course, in a town as hermetic as ours, crime is rare and disappearance even rarer, so the citizenry immediately worked itself into a lather of rumor. Some maintained that Gannon kept a mistress in the island village, our nearest neighbor. Several hours journey by rowed skiff, the only accounts we possess of the island were supplied by long-dead explorers and adventurers (and this information is regarded warily, since men who forego the pleasures of hearth and home for profligate, frivolous escapades can hardly be trusted in their judgments). Nevertheless, it has been recorded that the island is composed of an evergreen weald girded by vast, frozen plains. Its residents bundle in fur-lined parkas and fish with braided vine fibers through holes in the ice, for sustenance and sport. It is also said that exotic, unspeakable creatures move through their snow-burdened air, and examples of these are on display in Murphe the Taxidermist's curious little shop, though more level-headed citizens maintain that creatures such as these could not possibly exist – that Murphe is committing blasphemy by cobbling fantastic beasts from the carcasses of commonplace animals such as bats, felines, deer and fish. The island blackens our horizon, constantly emitting a thick smoke of unknown provenance.

The island denizens' artic environment is as alien and repellent to us as our tropical milieu must be to them, and perhaps this has been a factor in our failure to form a search party and locate Gannon's supposed mistress for questioning. His wife gainsays the mistress theory altogether, averring that even if Gannon did keep a mistress, which she was loathe to believe, he would not have gone to her during siesta (when his absence would immediately alert his wife to some malfeasance) unless he planned to not return. This, too, she found unlikely, because whatever Gannon's husbandly shortcomings may have been, he was ferociously dedicated to his daughter and would never abandon her. Most of the town's more incisive thinkers agreed that this was so.

Some believed that Gannon fell prey to violent crime; was dragged into a dark alley by a gang of roving bandits. Occam's razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is the correct one, as we choose to interpret it, has long held sway in our town – indeed, is engraved on the sundial in the town square. So even though violent crime is practically unheard of here, a mugging was still the simplest explanation. Of course, it was soon rendered invalid by the subsequent disappearances.

In the deep hours of the night, as the men hunched over whiskey sours under the tavern's murky oil-lamps, and the women sat sewing in flickering, fire-lit circles, darker, stranger rumors circulated. Much was made of Talwick the Haberdasher's account of Gannon's insubstantiality on the day he vanished, of his watery shimmer. And everyone muttered obscurely about the circled notice in the paper, the (alleged) stellate nimbus about Gannon's head, and the (ostensible) remoteness noticed by his apprentice. But Talwick was a known drunkard, a slave not only to spirits, but to graver vices as well: opium, and a green concoction of wormwood essence and alcohol. It was rumored that he smuggled hogsheads of the stuff into town by way of the underground cove just south of the harbor, possibly from the frozen isle. So his account was generally dismissed as the raving of madman and given little credence. Neither was the apprentice trustworthy, for the obtuse perceptions of a child are not capable of tracing out the acute nuances of a man, and often the import of meaningless tics is amplified in the young mind. But what of Lathel the Baker's deposition? A life-long teetotaler, known in the community as a rational and honorable man, not one among us would dare to call his testimony into question. But the only clue he offered was a notice in the paper about a missing cat, a notice that Gannon had circled in blue ink.

Or had he? The notice was circled and it was Gannon's paper, but Lathel admits he did not actually see Gannon circle the item, or even hold a pen, and that it was possible someone who had a perfectly mundane reason for circling the item passed along the paper to Gannon. He quickly corrected himself for using the word "mundane" and evoking its counter-insinuations, making embarrassed gestures with his hands.

And so this clue, like numerous others, remains unverified; can be attributed to neither grave import nor red herring, though it must be one or the other. Some still debate the various testimonies with an unease that swells as the pieces refuse to cohere; others have tried to put them out of mind, and all the while soft thunder and heat lightning gambol intransigently above the old mansion. Thick smoke sparkling with tiny lights rises from the frozen isle. Grubs and beetles writhe obscenely in the moist loam under each rock, where there was once only cool dead grass, and people are disappearing.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Response to Dan Hoy's flarf essay in Jacket

I don't have any personal stake in flarf or the accusations Dan Hoy levels at flarfists in this article, since I'm not among their ranks, despite having appropriated some of their processes (or more accurately, whatever impressions of their processes that have radiated out from the hermetic confines of the flarflist) in a peripheral way. But since my F7 project was explicitly addressed in Hoy's article, I will respond to portions of it. And can I mention, apropos of nothing, that F7 wants to change "flarfists" to "florists," and that this seems thrillingly appropriate, given the electronic gardens they tend?

It's worth noting that I like Dan personally, and admire him as an academic and a writer. It's also worth noting that the two poems of mine that will be included in Hoy's own Soft Targets journal both include elements generated by Google. I don't point this out as a contradiction meant to undermine his argument, but it is of interest – if I am unthinkingly complicit in the technocracy because of my processes, doesn't Hoy also share in this complicity by disseminating them? And, unless Hoy plans on publishing my poems with annotated criticisms of their mode of production, isn't his complicity as superficially unthinking as he would have mine to be? I fear that Hoy set out with a thesis already in mind, then found out-of-context examples to support it, instead of letting the research decide what it wanted to say. I have no problem with his ideas about Google’s corporate technocratic nature, but that he offers them as some sort of corrective – using his essay to skewer what he intuits to be the motivations of some poets working in this vein, instead of simply presenting his otherwise penetrating thoughts on Google without damning people for intentions that surely aren't his to know – is odd.

Hoy's assertion that poets using Google to make poems are somehow oblivious to Google's hierarchal nature goes largely unsupported. His reading seems extremely selective. He calls me out for not acknowledging the hierarchy embodied in Google and Microsoft Word's spellchecking function, when in fact I do, however glancingly, in the very same blogpost he quotes in his article:

"[T]he spellchecker used as a palette was compiled by a group of persons unknown to the author..."

This is by no means the explicit critique that Hoy calls for, but it does indicate at least a rudimentary awareness on my part of the not-actually-random nature of the F7 project. Tony Tost, who, to be fair, has had the benefit of close personal contact with me throughout the evolution of my project in forming his analysis, gleans this in his post (responding to the same article) on his Unquiet Grave blog:

"I mean, do you really think Brian Howe hasn't thought about the fact that the language suggestions brought up by the F7 key are a corporation's assertion of what normal or correct language use should be? Isn't it conceivable that that's a big part of the thrill and appeal of the F7 project, taking a technological tool that was intended for one normalizing purpose and hijacking it for a more disruptive, weird and incorrect purpose?"

This is entirely on the money, but again, while I know Dan, I've been in much closer personal contact with Tony over the year-and-a-half I've been working in this vein. So Tony actually has empirical knowledge of my thought processes, which Hoy does not. It's not clear what poets could do to "question the implications" of using Google and other generative technological mediations to Hoy's satisfaction, besides writing critical articles such as the one Hoy just published, which have no place in the work. Hoy's exegesis is welcome, but his ostensible assertion that the poet should have already done the critic’s work, and that the debatable fact that this hasn't happened somehow undermines the integrity of the poet's project, is less so. It seems to me that this sort of questioning is inherent in the work. If there's no explicit critique of Google or Microsoft in my project, one is implicit in the fairly monstrous voice that ripples through it, and I've spent much time pondering the ideological implications of what I'm saying vis-a-vis what MS Word's Spellchecker thinks I'm trying to say according to the cultural biases of its programmers, which power structures it favors and which groups it disenfranchises, how to exploit this slippage for powerful aesthetic affect and penetrating political comment, etc. What makes Hoy so sure that the basis of any Google-oriented project is not a critique of the tool it uses?

I wouldn't contest Hoy's claims that Google poems are biased, since they express the biases of the search engine's designers, and ideological, since they express the will of their "authors" in result-selection criteria, but I can't really countenance his claim that flarfists and people using Google to make poems are unaware of these implications. The questions he feels are going unaddressed seem to be, in my reading, exactly the questions such poems intend to raise. On a side note, I'm no longer using Google in my poetry, focusing instead solely on the F7 process – it was something I needed to experiment with for my own edification, but it's not an idiom I'm interested in pursuing further, when others have been doing it longer and more exactingly already. But I feel certain that my own experiments with Google and the Spellchecker actually foreground my own complicity, as a young white male, in the hegemony – as I blend poetic "I" statements with Googled results and Spellchecker generations, I become indistinguishable from the oft-horrible content of the poems. My acknowledged complicity seems to me to fairly resound through the poems, as does my burgeoning terror at the same.

Hoy is right that my F7 poems do stem from an imposed value system – I was imprecise in my blogpost. What I meant to say is that it they are free from my own imposed value system, at least to a greater extent than my unmediated poems. At the time, I was very rigidly observing my processes, not allowing any legroom for myself to make choices, creating the original nonsense texts entirely by keyed patterns and chance operations like dice rolls, randomly generated numbers & so forth, and even when arriving at the stage when MS Word presented me with a palette of word choices, I used chance operations or sequential rules to select those as well. While I was cognizant of MS Word's ideological bent and its affect on the poems, it wasn't something I was interested in explicitly addressing at this rudimentary, exploratory stage of the process, although this is no longer the case – now I allow my will into the poems freely and haphazardly, since I've found the tension is more interesting than the pure process. At any rate, I felt that these poems were engaged in a tacit critique of the media that produced them, even if it wasn't one that I fully understood myself yet.

I also disagree with Hoy's assertion that poets who use technologically mediated processes are excited about technological progress, when in fact the opposite seems true – the emotional register of such poems scans to me not as excitement, but dread, or at least a deep unease with the decentralization of the human, the individual, and the unique embodied in this technology. The gleefully obscene, almost giddy tone that pervades such poems scan as whistling past the graveyard, false and jarring contrasts to the poet's very real terror. Why Hoy chooses to read such impulses as "utopian," I have no idea, since they are plainly dystopian in their panoramic view of the vertiginous, canted, treacherous linguistic surface that mediates so much of our 21st century lives.

What Hoy's article ignores is flarf's and google-poetry’s (and yes, F7’s) sheer inevitability. Whatever their real or supposed ideological blind spots, they are the inevitable expression of our era, and if the poet's greatest calling is to inhabit his or her moment as fully as possible (contestable, but I believe it is, lest we all fall prey to the museum culture of "timeless" poetry), practitioners of flarf and other technologically mediated processes are answering this call most directly, engendering circumstances for critiques such as Hoy's, critiques that would be more valuable were they to examine the discernible phenomenon and not make blind assumptions about the phenomenon's practitioner's intentions. The collaging of (often corporately-generated) primary sources is shaping up to be the defining medium of our era – rap (at this stage, my thinking is that F7 has more in common with Mike Jones or DangerMouse than John Cage), mash-ups, DJ mixes, literary pastiche and hyperauthorship, rampant televisual meta-satire, etc etc etc. For poetry to try and stay "above the fray," as it were – doesn't this just make it more marginal than it already is? Perhaps that's what some poets want – to not see poetry become like TV – but I'm interested in poetry that engages with TV in its own arena, not to mimic it but to challenge it, to inhabit its moment. Hoy argues that there's an elitist bent to Googled poetry, but it's a lot closer to getting one's hands dirty than musing abstractly on the periphery of the culture.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


A story about a story from a friend in Japan:

To add to the collection of penis stories I've accumulated here in Japan:
I read one of the weirdest children's stories yesterday with a three-year old boy. (He picked it out, not me, and you could tell it was a real favorite. Now it's definitely one of mine, too.) It was in Japanese, so I couldn't get much of it, and neither could he, being three, but you could get the general gist of it from the pictures. Each page showed this little blond boy with an incredibly long appendage coming from his nether regions. And by long, I mean so long the boy can't find the end of it! The little boy follows it through rooms in his house, peers out the window only to find his little weewee winding through the streets of his town! And as I flipped the pages with this little Japanese boy, he would point out the little blond boy's anatomy, gleefully shouting "CHIN CHIN NAGAI!" (which means long penis, of course) on EVERY single page with the same level of intensity each time.The book has a happy ending, I guess.... The little blond boy eventually finds the end of his penis, just as... a STEAM ROLLER runs over it, in front of several video cameras. Obviously, this causes him some pain, but on the last page, you see him smiling proudly, still pantless in a street full of strangers, but with a normal-sized little chin chin. What do you with a story like that? Well, you definitely, definitely read it again. That's what we did, anyway.