Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Poetryburgh Presents: "Under the Bridge"

This was a night of poetry I arranged at my friend's house.

The actual event was definitely one of my favorite poetry events I've attended. It sounds self-serving but there was a lot of good qualities:
  • I really liked all the readers.
  • I got to present, and host, and make things the way I wanted, and look pretty and wear gym shorts and eye shadow (thanks to Karla Lamb)
  • Jenson Leonard's performance was _excellent_ and I got to react while listening by moving my body.
  • A lot of people and a lot of cool people showed up.
  • We ran out of toilet paper and had to emergency restock from Shur-Save
  • We got a noise complaint.
  • BD and Carlisle's backyard, where we read, overlooked the Bloomfield Bridge and the valley below *and the train tracks and bus way*, it's probably one of the most beautiful views in Pittsburgh.

View of the bridge. See also: fireplace.

  • This view is entirely unrepresented in the film.
  • I had a cheap mike and bass amp and that was our P.A.. Our lighting for the second half of the readings was a maglite taped to a railing and a floorlamp. We also had a campfire.
  • We had four or five different areas where people could hang out, including a campfire in the backyard, next to the readings.
  • We had an open-mic, untaped, on the city steps down to the valley. I made everyone only read two poems, and it was entirely dark except the lights/phones we brought. We had maybe ten fifteen people and it was really *hot* like *hot jazz*

For the video, Dave Williamson is responsible for the beauty of the framing. There's fire sparks in front of some of the poets and a beautiful spinning ceiling fan/light in the background for others. I instructed Dave to try to act as casual as possible to get the interviews and candid material and we got pretty much just enough for the video.

 I think the video drags during some of the readings-- it's hard to put a whole poem being read in the middle of a film like that, usually you want more cuts. I edited this all in one night and sat on it for a while, I never arranged for a second edit, so I decided just to publish what I had, even with the long readings in it, and the misspelled title, it's documentary at least, also I think a lot of the movie has verve.

I said the party/movie was based on "Debt Begins At Twenty" which is actually the founding text of this blog. The party was an ideal state of poetry for me, and very true to the phrase "I Want Pittsburgh To Be Fun".

The full lyric from DBAT is "I Want Pittsburgh To Be Fun, If It [doesn't change soon?] I Might Pull Out A Gun" [I have to rewatch the movie, it's offline].

I danced with my dad at a punk show revival night at SPACE downtown featuring the band "Carsickness", this same gallery having "Debt Begins at Twenty" playing in the back room. Jon (my dad) has a peculiar way of dancing, my mom told me this growing up. All I knew about my dad's residency in Pittsburgh in his 20's was that he did a lot of drugs and also danced at punk shows, he was also a huge fan of "Carsickness". So I got to dance with him to the same band he danced to when he was my age.

   The way Jon dances is he hangs his jaw out like a severe underbite, hunches his shoulders up, and twists back and forth. It looks completely without grace and I was wondering if there was something wrong with him; but there wasn't, he pulled me in and I did my own version of punk dancing which is like you know head bobbing shit. Also when I finished my beer the thing to do was just throw it on the ground, dad showed me that at that show.

The thing about that dance was that there was a lot of gracelessness to it, but it was entirely intentional, and entirely in the spirit of the thing, and we were dancing in good company with the other aged punks who showed up, we had mosh pits, I was shoving a small aging american around and throwing cups of water at my twin.

The main connection I make between that night and this night, was that in both cases there was a sort of odd perfection that the night was spelling out, relative to my personal everything, and it wasn't perfect for being completely good and not awkward but having a total form to it-- and in each case either was the result of careful artistic planning, my work for "Under the Bridge" and Dennis Childers and Larrey Rippel's for the SPACE gallery show.

Maybe there is one more thing which is impressing me which is the meta-form relations between these carefully planned artistic events, my movie, and "Debt Begins at Twenty". At all times I was aware, and I think maybe other people were too, during the events, and while I watched DBAT, that there was a certain ideal we could achieve, or an activity we could follow, in that sort of "being punk, being poets" vein. Mostly I am trying to activate that spirit if and when I am doing poetry or planning events.
--poetryburgh 5/9/17

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Review of Amit Majmudar's "Dothead"

(I wrote this on company time, trying to put up something for the CLPGH website. Not going to use this.)

What do we do with our ancestry? What do we do with our race, interpreted by our culture? Generally the habit of perhaps even the second generation of children of immigrants is to be stuck between the demands of an American life and the behavior of (a different culture). "Dothead" is surprising for handling this distinction so adroitly, with violence, on occasion, and to be reunited with violence. 

I generally don't enjoy poetry. I didn't really enjoy Dothead, except for the one excerpt from the titular poem: 

my third eye burned those schoolboys in their seats, 
their flesh in little puddles underneath, 
pale pools where Nataraja cooled his feet. 

I also enjoy the shape of the poem, which manages to transmit some funk across these rhyming schoolboy lines. I didn't read the rest of the book. 

Dothead: the term itself a slur, being modified/owned by the descendant. In general the rhyming is insufferable and the poems themselves obsessed with the conceit of poemhood as all this book generally is. All books of poems that have singular word as the title, meant to express some wondrous victimhood, tend to be this way, and I think the average consumer reacts as if each book were a wounded bird.  

Maybe you nurse this bird back to life, but guess what, it's wing's broken, so it's just gonna fly around your house and crap everywhere, but do a half-flying with one broken wing that ends up suicidal mostly. And like all animals it's just obsessed with its self. You can raise it but for slowly getting the sense that you could have just nature take care of this and have everyone, book/bird included, be better off.  

I think books should generally make you feel uncomfortable, albeit as forms of entertainment, those that do might not leave the shelf. But I remember Al Columbia's The Golden Bear Days which is all violence and obscene kids and I think about how a book can summon a great terrible nonsense that your eyes seem peeled to, take in a certain patter and leave and if you want and get that patter back you return to (it). 

Patter they is, great and terrible it's not, Indian-ess sure, and sort of diversity-esque writing that has at least some of that great terrible violence. I think the moment when schoolyard Amit blazes his fellow kids with the dot on his head is better for being literal.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Odd Communion: TRPGs, Poetry, Videogames, virtualworlds and more Andrea Coates

My next project for Pittsburgh is to have writers write about videogames. In general I think pop culture subject matter makes a poem fresh. It's relatable and it's not flowers or valleys and like I spend 2/3 of my day staring at a screen, so.

I live in a world most defined by the commercialsprawl thing that Andrea Coates talks about here*. Products, logos, not necessarily all bent to sell me things because the machine throws sparks, too. Nothing's perfect, and not too many people are at the helm.

In this popmedia sprawl lies video games, commercial structures included. Is it just my particular ///sidenote: check out this Andrea quote and the future of Alt Lit as it does not exist sadly:

In this popmedia sprawl, as I was saying, exists a fun and potentially valid future venue of art called gaming; the ultimate V.R. experience which is as well the future "3d experience" of other various digital medias. To a lesser extent, i.e. the poetry's equivalent, lies role-playing games, those on the tabletop, involving paper and pencils.////

///Ok, for the record, here's my life experience right now: I loaded up, on my twin brother's advice, the Donald Glover short film "Clapping For The Wrong Reasons" to watch as I wrote this piece. Somehow the video ended up paused and an Andrea Coates poem, Dear Shane Smith, started playing on Soundcloud in a background tab. Little did I know of any of this, as I thought the still image of Don Glover lying in bed while Andrea Coates' growly revolutionary message played in the background was, having not recognized the voice of A.C., that this was the actual Don Glover film. I thought it was pretty good.    ....All this while I try to type and simultaneously load up the Arcane Kids' faux-virtual-reality Soundcloud/Unity webdevice.... My computer threatens to crash. All my blogging may delete. I'm running a Chromebook which has very little RAM. You may begin to get a sense of the strained techno-interpersonal connections of my life. A.C. begins screaming as I try to pause the Don Glover movie which doesn't seem to be actually playing, the whole fa├žade begins falling apart as the computer does crash, and I'm left with a digital silence at least along with my writing which was not deleted. This as I sit in my parent's house 1 year after a 5-year college english-degree completion with little-to-nothing to do during my 15-hour workweek. I can't write poetry because no one cares. I type up a blogspot.////

The obsession that has entered my life lately is the rpgs as made by Zak Smith, Patrick Stuart, James Raggi: Lamenations of the Flame Princess. A stripped-down version of D&D meant to semi-emulate original-edition D&D but built with more horror in mind. Kinda eldritch, kinda disempowering, kinda simple character creation to replace the dead characters who died fighting that evil thing at 1st level.

I find communion in these objects -- gametexts, online virtual webtoys, and yeah I guess videogames themselves-- when they occasionally create cohesion between individuals, as opposed to the more regular solitary cohesion between individual and produkt. I mean the online gaming experience, with its modulated microphone voices ringing through virtual death machines, these, your friends. I also mean sitting around a table and bullshitting about what you're going to do to a white dragon. There's dice involved, in virtual reality too, and these mechanical components seem to strain-- usefully-- against the more nuanced and forgiving social interactions. You can commit a player to death on the back of lady luck, and similarity, you can stomp a public server of noobs** if you've mastered the art of clicking and clacking fast enough. 

Poetry in these circumstances I think doesn't lie with the storywriting behind the gametexts- virtual or not- or with the social interactions, or with the mechanical interactions. I think the poetry connection lies in the making of love to a machine.  The obsequity of man serving machine, machine pleasing human, in an endless loop for hours. This in a possibly ritualistic formal setting between you and your friends. This is the kinda poetry I'm after, making sense of this digital-mechanical-psychological connection which bounces back and forth in my living room for days at a time. It's an odd communion.


*Note that this, the article I wanna talk about, wherein A.C. takes down Tao Lin for  a kind of rampant commercialism which both emodies his work as well as the environment we live in (as millennials, or really everyone on earth), this article has been been made private on Andrea's former blog. This too is the condition of internet literature: temporary publications. Everything is accessible but for limited times! It's hard not to feel as if I'm standing by the edge of grinding pit, digital publications being as vulnerable as they are... some of my favorite writing lost forever... As well it would probably be a good blog post to write about the increasing ability of artists themselves to sequester their own work from the free-online space.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Poetryburgh Reviews Canadian non-poet Andrea Coates's Blog: Watch As I Try to Label it "Insane" In a Good Way

SPRING BREAKERS 2.0: Only God Forgives \\ Trailer - Andrea Coates & Harmony Korine from Andrea Coates on Vimeo.

The above is one of Coates' videos, a near-unwatchable mashup right? Kinda masterfully dense collaboration of her own ideas of celebrity with her music and with pop images. I'm not discussing her videos for this post though, I'm discussing the writing on her blog at thehighwayoftears.blogspot.ca. I just have the above for color. Also if anyone knows more about Coates' current figuring in Canadian culture please email me at peterbowensewebb@gmail.com

Why is Andrea Coates good? She’s a radical, willing to see multiple sides of one issue, including the otherwise “insane” ones. I use the word "insane" not because I believe in insanity as a legit social identifier but because I think people will connect with what I'm talking about when I say it. Is that implicit-ly supporting the label "insane"? Andrea Coates would probably empathize with my use of it.

Coates understands that empathizing with all human beings is the project, and that a general sympathy for all humans isn't just a moral necessity, it's a pathway into interesting ideas:
"Nowhere in modern politics, in Canada or elsewhere - besides here, this blog - will you find an individual or association campaigning for the societal and economic rights of Organized Criminals as such. Which means, to my mind, the “Gangster Human-Rights Advocate” is a political niche waiting to be filled, and, considering I am the first person I know of to point to the absence of an Organized Criminal perspective in the public debate around recreational drug-policies, I think I ought to doodle it in. Not because I personally sell recreationals (rather I hang out with people who do and listen to their stories and give them advice), but because I am willing to take on the difficult task of empathizing with and articulating the position of the professional Organized Criminal in a hypocritical legal culture."
- http://thehighwayoftears.blogspot.ca/p/marijuana-legalization-in-canada-where.html

With the above, the "insane" perspective is a way to examine drug politics. But I also label Andrea as "insane" because you'd identify the celebrity-identification that she does as a common pattern of "insane" people: claiming that celebrities stole ideas from her, calling the owner of VICE her future he-doesn't-know-it-yet-but-he-will-be-my boyfriend; we've all seen enough examples of this practice to dismiss it out of hand. But Andrea uses the practice (self-consciously) to display the rather particular lines of power which draw out from celebrity to individual, and to conjecture the bounds of our current, and possibly future society:
"Shane Smith is letting Tao Lin, Specifically, as the Literary Writer of Highest Rank in the VICE Cotterie, get away with suggesting his Wife / GFs / Crushes for Employment @ VICE over Women of Notable Literary Talent because Shane Smith himSelf harbours a Fantasy of forcing a Literary Woman into the Position of having to Sxually please him for his Attention as an Artist, but SS cannot act on this Fantasy with the Ease Tao can as a Mere Peon of his, because what with Technology xposing People as it does, EveryOne would know about the Affair and it would reflect Poorly on SS as a Boss: so he lives the Fantasy out Vicariously, through Tao Lin, and in doing so attracts the Attention of the Woman he wants to force into this Position, who is me, the First Person to pick up on the Trend @ VICE and get Angry about it, who will subvert the Fantasy and make it reflect Well on Shane Smith and I as opposed to Poorly, by coming up with the Apology Idea: if SS apologizes for VICE’s Misogyny Generally, the Public will forgive him for taking a Mistress, and he can go on accumulating Power in CEOland with Moral Impunity. Coming to an Understanding of how Hierarchy works has been Vital to my figuring out how to subvert Feminine Xploitation : Once Hierarchal Power Relationships are made Visible, it is amazing how Much More Human Activity makes Sense, and how Much Clearer where to apply Pressure to promote Change becomes."
from: http://htmlgiant.com/interviews-2/an-artic-fox-interviews-andrea-coates/

What Andrea does here: proposes a conspiracy between Tao Lin (former prince-king of Alt Lit) and Shane Smith (founder of VICE) wherein the gender power dynamics of the Alt Lit scene and their respective publication through VICE are semi-credibly analyzed. She then proposes, and in fact, predicts herself to be the solution: her own brand of gender-politics and her physical self will caulk Shaun Smith's anxiety and allow for a less misogynistic publication.

This is, again, a move of empathy, twofold: first, she finds an empathetic solution to VICE's misogyny, and second, she legitimizes her own nonentity/celebrity relationship. Empathy for the self is a powerful thing and by drawing a larger obfuscated politics through her own person, Andrea manages to conceive both a potential understanding of VICE as well as a more workable future.  I don't think it matters that this plan is unlikely to work; it's sorta like speculative lit.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cory in The Abyss & The Poet's Meme

Cory in The Abyss, scrolling, gives me the sensation of a long scream of desperation; anxiety; tender moments played through a frustration so immense that they conglomerate into a cultural hellstate. As the Blackness in our culture resides in nothing; as sex is parodied long past the point of an actual sex life; these things are generally dealt with humor, to make the mixture universally palatable; but as this humor is an absurdist humor, the deeper faults of comedy come to the surface, to be solidified into meme.

I think Cory memes form a cogent narrative across the page, as compared to the general splay of something like imgur.com. "Cory" is one particular creator who does have a tone and a business; his message is pop-art burlesque, basically, carnivalesque parody of what's new, what's political, what's lightly taboo. This breaks down in some points to semi-poetic noncommentary, a collage of various cultural bright points into a dream or nightmare upon waking. It's very Lisa Frank.

Cultural significance of The Abyss = the cultural significance of Lisa Frank= image making, with the intent to market. Essentially Cory is "on blast." He's attempting to produce something relatable. Thus his memes are for their own sake. That there is a significant part of cultural commentary in the mix may very well be there just for the appeal. It seems hard to isolate.
Lisa Frank

Cory in The Abyss 

"Cory" himself's a poet. He's going to apply to grad school for poetry. As his greatest success is perhaps in something not-at-all poetry there is perhaps a lot to be said; I would like to say that the cross-cultural connections of poets are particularly potent for being imaginative and for existing in a space where the current culture has to be entirely fled. I would like to embrace "the new" wherever it comes up and I believe that memes as combination of collage and cellular distribution are "new." As a model for poetry they, I think, accomplish some of poetry's greater goals. That being said I feel a great hesitance when confronted with The Abyss; something feels shallow. Where's the next step. A missing depth in the memes. Still searching.

1,000 people out of work will still do something and if it's not crime it might still look obscene. Let's say goodbye to the era of workmanly cause-and-effect and embrace the era of confounding cultural astigmatism where attention is everything and love evaporates in the deep-settled mines of a forgotten past. Nostalgia overflowing essentially into substance. This before or perhaps after the Matrix gets ahold of us, the dulling effect first thought practical seen to be overridden by enormous leechlike neural networks of blazing paranoia. Can culture itself be reduced to a pure, homeostatic oil? At least in the form of latticed image this seems possible.


Saturday, August 27, 2016


August 28th, 2016 @ Most Wanted Fine Art, 5015 Penn Avenue.
Celebratory Unrelated Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8llsiEIvvM0

Call me an unbeliever... call me someone with MESSED UP FEELINGS... CALL ME SOMEONE WITH FRIENDS... not that good friends... essentially, after tonight, I was left with two questions:
1. What is Love?
2. What is Fuck?

I think there's something essential about loneliness. The way it drives us... "The core of solitude is love"... that was another thought I had tonight, in the MWFA bathroom. A kind of of "romance" had taken over the evening, even a kind of "gothicism"... I wonder if rich people feel this way.

I wonder if there's legitimately challenging, good music in Pittsburgh, for the rich... like the jazz artists at the Jefferson Awards, who were good... Somehow I (less rich) am stuck with this tentative semiart scene, like the art is halfway family-friendly, only occasionally strange.

There are many artists in Pittsburgh, and their art has an almost economic effect: you have your artist friends and they practice polyamorous weird sex lives and art forms, they create an "intense weirdness", and they spread this to others. This can be poetry, but I think if we're being honest, as we should be, we have to admit that it's not simply poetry that we're looking for; it's a certain attitude, a certain environment, not locatable within any particular genre but answerable to the requirements of many; a series of artistic traditions, linked to a city and time.

If you are like me, you want all your best friends to perform in ways that F'N WORK in an environment that goes late, and for this I have to thank Margaret Bashaar; I have to thank her and Rachael Deacon and all the rest of the people who get this done. I think, as much as it is a shaping of the environment, this art is personal, a living of a life, taking a residence within a city, among people who you have these tenebrous relationships with; kinda artsy, kinda limited; there and not there. What is Love? (What is Fuck?)

The world (in Pittsburgh) is limited, and the world inside me, too, is limited, and it's all less than ideal, but at least it's practiced as poetry, which is an art form, and I've found the promise of being an artist is to have this tenebrous connection to a force deeper than yourself, a semireligous connection (art used to be subservient to religion, right?) So even the anti-Jesus poems that cropped up, like the real legitimate atheist scarred-by-Christianity poems, these poems contributed to, rather than took away from, a faith which was the blatant point of "Free Jesus Poems About Jesus, Let's Do This". Just like Snake or Monster poems before it, it was a kind of heightened semi-sarcastic semi-childish and (especially with Jesus poems) sacrilegious (but so equally, religous!) communion.

I wrote about communion before when Steve Roggenbuck came to town. When Rachael Deacon did "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing" it was sort of completely sincere and I sat on the floor, and everything was in kind of in that spirit. Religious ecstasy, a more-or-less joining of souls.

(Free Jesus Poems was organized by Rachael Deacon and Margaret Bashaar and is part of the annual series Free ____ Poems about _____. Let's Do this.)


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

City of Asylum-- Jazz Poetry Concert Sept 12th

I’m usually frustrated by the collaboration between musical performers and poets. Often the music is relegated to a mere background role, a vamping behind the words. Much better is when the two sounds are on even terms, when they influence each other: it’s at that point when something new emerges. That “new thing” emerged a few times last Saturday at City of Asylum’s annual Jazz Poetry Concert, as it did for Amanda Fadgen, who did a sign-language reading of one of  Heather McHugh’s poems. Vijay Iyer and Oliver Lake played jazz behind Amanda as she signed Heather’s poem, and the fusion of their sound and her movement, and the natural fusion of ASL between motion and language, collaborated in a way arriving at a sort of heightened dance.

City of Aslyum had set up a big white tent next to the National Aviary for the event; a light rain drizzled outside. The evening started off with about an hour-long performance from the Vijay Iyer Trio and followed with several Jazz/Poetry collaborations. Not all of them worked; but the idea did come through for Terrance Haye’s performance, which I’d like to talk about.

Terrance understands a crucial fact about poetry: it cannot, by the casual audience member, be taken seriously. To this end follows Terrance’s masterful poetic voice- at all times when he reads he deals with a troubled sincerity, a slight leaning-back from the honesty many poets make use of, a position which matches the off-kilter images and premises of his work. When he read last Saturday, he introduced his poems as “weird poems”- a kind of warning, a humor to help the audience accept the strangeness of the liberty with language that they were about to hear. What makes Terrance great is the way that these images and premises explode into sincerity: see the aunt from Hayes’ “The Carpenter Ant” who knocks holes into her walls like a carpenter- strange, almost joking metaphor made into sincerity.
The jazz behind Terrance, however, functioned to give his voice from the start a credence that allowed him to shed that premise of humor almost immediately, almost completely. His voice acquired a quality of song; there was an understanding that something as complex and strange as jazz was unashamedly the focus of his work. For me that moment achieved a kind of breakout goal of poetry, to become not the poem anymore, but to instead become something hard to ignore- in the same way that jazz can stop being just discordant noise and tune everyone in into something greater.

Other memorable pieces of the evening: Aja Monet’s reading (last line: “When we were children, we were told to believe in the santuary of peace. They should have told us it was war”), some of Vijay Trio's Jazz, and the reading with some guy in a white jumpsuit standing on his head while slow-frame black-and-white videos of gymnasts played along with the jazz and some light projections. There was also a moment when the event coordinators asked us to hold up our programs, which each bore the name of a persecuted, possibly murdered, writer. At first I felt distanced, but as they photographed us holding up all of those names they played a quote from some writer, and I felt moved: “language has the ability to change the world, and it is for this reason alone that small minds seek to silence it”. Somewhat self-aggrandizing, I know, but it drove the point home. --poetryburgh@gmail.com