Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Phatic Gamble of the Lyric

Occasionally the idea of an A Tonalist anthology occurs to me. Luckily, one already exists hidden within the pages of Bay Poetics. One of the definitive pieces in this anthology-within-an-anthology is the section taken from Taylor Brady’s Yesterday’s News, (originally published in Leslie Scalapino’s second War and Peace anthology.) Every word in this much anthologized piece seems to drill down into an alternative universe of possibilities. (“cadence,” “within,” “incision,” “vacule,” “inequality”) The ambiguities accrue to assert and undermine the propositions even as they are made. One is left feeling simultaneously enabled, understood, outflanked and encouraged.

Taylor brings up the vexed question of lyric in a way that acknowledges a millienium’s worth of ennui on the subject yet manages to interest us anyway. As Suzanne Stein comments in “Fugitive State,” in the most recent BOTH BOTH, “Time’s run away with me./Is this a Lyric?/Stop asking questions, stop asking, stop.”

But the question of lyric remains and stands in for the question of genre at all. Taylor’s text extends the already wide territory of what might be considered poetry. It stands in the no-man’s land between lyric, essay and the void.

Taylor Brady on Mt. Shasta

From “They Store It Up”
(slight return)

--- notes around lines by George Oppen –

Lyric, because its fundamental is address to a world from a place within the world, and because neither of these can be known or given in advance. Without some authorizing cadence the clashing overtones cannot resolve, and an angular space of blank incision opens us.

Anything but a “return to the lyric” – this is the cadence itself, whose recuperative translation from hazarded address to the metalanguages of settlement has always demanded such a pre-emptive return. To parlay the phatic gamble of the lyric into the general clamor and desperation of intra-Imperial counter-communication, is to build a language that does not return.

Something else is there, if only.

Its emptiness, reflected back on itself as an inequality, hollows out the contours of a space in which others might remain alive. This space, formed in the vacuole or gap in temporality that encloses lyric address, must be pried loose from the privileged exemption to history that it has too often claimed for itself, to become instead a locus for what is unresolved in historical progression, the wrenched standpoint of a contradiction.

(Place of birdsong in Dolphy’s music, as an early field guide).

I think my poetry has arrived at a constricted moment where the lyric, far from returning, is finally possible. I think it is necessary to risk an inability to speak if I am to find whether anything can still be said.

Thrillingly, these considerations, among many others, continue in Taylor’s luscious new book Occupational Treatment just out this second from Atelos:

He will lean into your space a bit, with lyric
anxiety almost real. A gold standard.
A golden standard will get planted on the walls,
fluttering foil, focusing the eyes up,
away from all the bleeding trying
to get in on the ground floor. A standard
sort of horizon. Not a poem but this
painting, this focus: closed and padlocked
metal door heating up from inside
in the fire. Cliffhanger. His badly broken
leg. Episodes. His thirty minute
interval evacuate him. Oil
slicks. A shimmering sort of series.

From “Broadcast for Dead Television,” "Survey Markers," Occupational Treatment

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Our Commonality

Before, I at times lived under the illusion that my life was without risk. Now, having no choice, for I constantly confront the fact that my time may soon run out, I exist only as a risky situation. I am risk. There is no beyond this state. There is no reliance on becoming, alone, what I am not now. Death approaches, and I write from this lack of retreat. I do so not just to tell others what it’s like, or to describe this unnerved state of mind and body, confronting what is unrepresentable – but to locate, paradoxically, an autonomous commonality free of justification for its existence. It is a commonality grounded on one’s reaching out toward another. This means working at an exchange that begins, as Derrida has it, with being conceptualized: that particularizes being, that works at an exchange in relation to ‘what’ and ‘whom.’ I write to encounter the person I love, to reach a friend, a stranger. I imagine her, I work to allow her access to her response. This entails a paradoxical questioning and ambiguous answering that begins with a generative tentativeness built upon paradoxes – for, as Heidegger writes, “being never is, never shows itself, is never present, is never now.” The task requires a rigor predicated on the very irreducibility of the other. The other: who pulls me, strips me of myself; who demands that I communicate our commonality; who says, that’s all there is and that is not all there is. “Encounter is separation.” For this oxymoron to become the actual precondition for an exchange, writing must be unbound from predeterminations, community censoring intentions, projects. Yet, such an exchange is always constrained. Although what I would communicate is constantly displaced, contextualized, and recontextualized by the bifurcating connotations that are the very essence of language, I am nevertheless immersed, that is, determined by the indeterminate possibility of words. Language parallels being’s absence and presence. Its play of signs enacts analogies to my ‘present’ situation. Writing and life: I write so that words may bring to existence being actual in its time between immediacies, between, between identifications. One exists in an interval both known and enigmatic. Again and again, the other brings risk into existence by compelling a vigilance keyed to this fragility of correspondences.

Jerry Estrin

May 6, 1947 – June 22, 1993

"Our Commonality" was first published in Avec 7 in 1994, an issue guest-edited by Norma Cole. I later published it in the on-line journal non. The photo of Jerry was taken by me at Pyramid Lake in Nevada. The photo of me was taken by Norma near Rainbow Lodge in the Sierra Nevada the day we scattered Jerry's ashes.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Norma Cole

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Not the question of who
Is legible to whom or who
Counts or the diagram
Of that sentence commuted
But what is (trans) sent
Are they real he asked
Real expensive she said
But it was an episode
Not the real poetry
The list of which gets
What does it get again?
Is there a transposition
When sound imitates music?
As Duncan wrote
He loved Levertov
In the letters
That make love
Evolve as a consequence
Of telling
What is human swells
What burns red What is
Sound remains strong
Or lists
As when the list
Addresses changes of
Who is read and what is known
That she was a witch
Or just another poet
Eligible for scorn
A sentiment transposed into
Resentment in the best sense
As resent means
Send again to see
Direction as reckoning
Grammar to glamour
Red to end spectrum to
Speculative poetics to a subset
Of text and hex
Violet to violent
“Even as we are most ‘sent’”
Letters to love (hers)
Unknown to renown finally
Revealed to (be) each other

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Norma Cole

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Letter to Brent Cunningham

(from Alan Halsey)