Pallaksch, Pallaksch

Steven Seidenberg and Elizabeth Robinson Launch a New Journal: Pallaksch, Pallaksch

A couple of weeks ago at Canessa Park in San Francisco, there was  a reading in celebration of the publication of the inaugural issue, and I was unable to make it: sick at home with the end of the quarter flu.  Too bad, because the readers included: Beverly Dahlen, Kevin Killian, Colleen Lookingbill, Seidenberg himself, and Lew Ellingham. 

Steven Seidenberg reading
Kevin Killian, Beverly Dahlen and Elizabeth Robinson in the front row

The journal presents a generous selection of work for each of the writers published;it is a treat to get such a large helping of writing. 
Th inaugural issue contains work by:

Bridget Carson
Lew Ellingham
Colleen Lookingbill
David Mutschlecner
Beverly Dahlen
Kevin Killian
Kimberly Lyons
Steven Seidenberg
Martin Corless Smith

You should check it out for yourself!  Check out the magazine's web site here.


Myung Mi Kim on George Oppen

The George Oppen Memorial Lecture: Myung Mi Kim Saturday December 15, 2012

For years, somehow, I missed the Oppen Lectures.  In the last few, I’ve not missed one; they open up Oppen’s work and nearly always unwind a thread that is very specific to the speaker’s own thinking and writing.  This year Myung Mi Kim journeyed from Buffalo New York, returning to the Bay Area to deliver the annual lecture.  What a deep and satisfying pleasure it was. I've tried to capture, albeit in a very notational form, some of the experience; given the nature of these notes, it nearly goes without saying that this "account" is bound to be inadequate to the event and Myung's unfolding thinking in action. Mea culpa.

I arrived the tiniest bit late, coming in as Kim was prefacing her talk with some remarks about the challenge and complications of “response.”  She noted she was not coming at this talk from the place of lecture: “to address severely and at length.” But rather, she sought to bring together discrepancies and disjunctions, because, she noted, the power of Oppen’s work is not in statement, logic, claim. Myung approached the talk via another meaning associated with lecture:” to gather firewood.” Her talk was punctuated by “gatherings,” travel through etymology via wonder, and close, sustained engagement.  The atmosphere was alive with attention; people were rapt. Kim opened up a space in which time was elastic, appropriate, as it turned out.

She began with a series of terms--infantry, infant—harvested from Oppen’s letters.  One from George Johnson from the 60s in which Oppen writes to Johnson: “you write: ‘the war in a sense rescued me.’ ” Oppen responds: “I feel this too.”

In a second letter from the late 1970s Oppen writes of being in a foxhole, of Reznikoff’s poems running through his mind and his own ceaseless weeping. Myung wondered about the meaning of Oppen’s agreement: “I feel this too,” being carried by infantry to the open world.  

Throughout her talk, Kim sought to braid three threads: time, harm, and the cracking open of language.

My notes track the following:

Time opens, irradiates.

Time is unquantifiable; time, in the scene of the foxhole Oppen describes, is unbound.

Time is duration without measure yet asks for ever more exact measure.

Countable experience is in tension with mystery.

Reports of Oppen being “slightly injured” in the war; others assert he sustained a more serious injury.

The fact that reports are various is interesting; engages this undecidability: the difficulty of accounting for harm, what cannot be grasped in language.

Kim stated that: Oppen “refutes” the logic of figuration or the regiment of representation. He is seeking how to track harm, the harmed body and its location and relation to the singular and the collective.

Kim noted she is interested in the inaudible/audible that is figured above in the letter : “the poem running through one’s mind” and Oppen’s insistence on silence as clarity. 

From here, Kim links Oppen’s statements from the Daybooks re the infant, the child: “to see the child as substantial, as a person,” to a claim that “not speaking” is not about the pre-verbal or pre-linguistic, but rather language is untethered from the developmental model; one doesn’t “graduate” from silence to language. For Oppen there is a being without language that is not deprivation.

Via Heidegger and On the Way to Language, Kim gathered Heidegger’s claim that the poet undergoes an experience and this experience is put into language.
In speaking of Oppen’s wartime letters to Mary, and the break in address that they make-- since the letter neither confirms life or death (because of the lag in time between the writing and sending of them and the time of Mary’s receipt and reading of them)-- Kim posits interruption as a mode of address operative in Oppen’s work. What resources, she asked, are called forth in the non-assurance of address? What charge might this non-assurance of address have for the lyric? 

Via several other “gatherings,” Kim linked Oppen’s transversal, the inter-animation of the aporetic and caesuric, to border thinking, to new paradigms for sense making, for new forms of the social. 

Closing the evening, Kim responded to Oppen’s 


If you can


from “Of Being Numerous.” These lines have haunted Kim.  And one can see why, given Kim’s own poetic projects.  At once they gesture to the grimmest of facts—the confirmation that it is impossible to speak, the foreboding inadequacy of language; the suggestion that the only possible response might be to refuse to speak.  Simultaneously the lines offer silence or speechlessness as a praxis of possibility, tender entreaty: May I hope with you to be able to speak.

There is much more to say, fragmentary and not, about the capacious and generous reading of Oppen’s work performed by Myung. We listened to a bit of Bach’s B Minor Mass, Oppen having said of it that he “wept because it says everything that can ever be said,” and we heard a recording of Oppen introducing Charles Reznikoff ‘s reading at the Poetry Center. [You can hear Oppen’s intro here at Penn Sound]. We also performed a group reading of sections from “Of Being Numerous.” Throughout the talk, Kim took time to provide a generous scaffolding for her audience, occasionally retreating to reiterate a crucial point, outlining her trajectory, moving at a pace that made it possible to follow her, to move along her trajectory with awe and pleasure, as it unfurled before us. She made use of that aporetic, caesuric, border thinking that animates her own as well as Oppen’s exquisite space of the uncategorizable, the resonant plural, the “cadence of unfolding” in his poetics, what Kim called, a persistence of practice.

Find out more about Myung and The Poetry Center here.

For more from xpoetics on Oppen Lectures:

Rosmarie Waldrop's Lecture
Peter Nichols' Lecture
Rob Halpern's Lecture


Readings the Weekend of December 1 & 2

Recent Readings Around the Bay

In the San Francisco Bay Area we are fortunate to suffer an embarrassment of poetry reading riches.
There's always more happening than I can possibly attend. This past Saturday, December 1st, Jim Brashear and I trudged up Franklin from Hayes Valley in a light rain to arrive just in time as Alice Notley took the microphone for her reading held at the Unitarian Center and jointly sponsored by The Poetry Center and Small Press Traffic.

Alice Notley
photo courtesy of Alan Bernheimer

The reading was incantatory, Notley with her long gray locks, a dark jacket, her slender body under the light up front. We in the darkness in the back. More than a hundred people in the audience, surely.

She began with this poem:

The Unsliced Orator

Marie paints a little girl with three eyes--two in the regular
places and one smaller eye in the center of her forehead, a
perfect little eye, blue like the others, and it blinks. I
can't make the page blink: she writes "blinks" on the

page with an arrow pointing towards the third eye.
Her father doesn't like her very much, Marie thinks,

she's a freak. I don't know who she is, Marie thinks. I
like not knowing; the desert is blooming--spring--desert
lilies, white with pale olive stripes on Lily Hill. She--
the girl--might be a lily. What does that mean? nothing

Marie paints a lily near the girl, with an eye on it. This
letter is called "Lily." I don't mean letter. I don't mean
anything. I never did. A side-blotched lizards runs past.
The sky is bluer than paint; a cactus wrens tinkling call
I've never been alive before, or since. Honey mesquite.

On Sunday, December 2nd, at ATA on Valencia, Small Press Traffic (SPT) hosted  Tim Trace Peterson, Monica/Nico Peck, and j/j hastain as part of SPT's season focus on Genders/Bodies/Hybrids.

Camille Roy and Trace Peterson

Trace read first, including some work read directly from Trace's phone and from the new book, Violet Speech, published by 2nd Avenue Poetry. The reading included an impromptu song, belted out by Trace who was in a blonde bob, aqua tights, and silver/white pumps; the song was followed by an encore reading.

Here's a snippet from Violet Speech:

The violets in the mixed perennial border, plump, with lacy edges, come in a variety of purples.

The violets providing orally answered please rise please stand.

The undertenant of said premises, stem to petiole to leaf, voiced several stipulations drooping after rain, sweet craolo vortex stain.

A cross-examination: How do you answer the stigma style petal ovary?

I speak an unlisted option, anther stigma.

                                                                    An argument ensues

and I'm insisting, now shouting at the clerk behind the desk. Like a buzzing bee he gathers drones, hardons.

I am his receptacle, discretion.

Perennial violets spread by creeping roots and rhizomes, duly sworn before a plaque that reads "In God We Trust."

The entire garden bed, a court, a caption for that plaque we saw behind the violet's head, low-slung ceilings miracle-gro, cheap nametag font cotyledens.

Nico/ Monica Peck read next from the chapbook entitled Welter or an atlas of lies. First, Peck noted that Peck's genitals would be passed around, and then Nico pulled out a large, white, bulbous and fluffy pillow-object, encouraging people to keep it moving.

Nico/Monica Peck and Evan Kennedy
photo courtesy of Camille Roy

Welter owes a debt to the flâneur, some of its materials, perhaps all, found "in the trash" while Peck strolled about in the world.

Here's a piece called

"given escarpment"

you sd, "i'm feeling less blurred today," but i hear
"less bird," as if the connexion can last across diffi-
culties. it can't. it doesn't. it's cut out.

as permission = per + mittere=through + send, as in
r. duncan: "often i have been permitted to return..."
meadow as field as page as day as window as sky as

standing w/ legs wide, feet turned, arms outstretched.
vimana asana (skt: aircraft/bird pose, lit. vi = out,
mana = measure) vimana = an elaborate time analogy or
a hover craft powered by ionized mercury.

meeting the origin as "past," what it comes out of,
not with silence, but absence, so that it implies
something could be said, but isn't.

my gesture never makes it into a stance. somehow pa-
sive. arms always a situation, as much "in" my mind as
"of" it. asana as forbidden mirror, tho "i" /it doesn't
speak the truth so much as quagmire it.

you might say that i am acting the part, that i assume
an "acculturated person" role.

sky and mind are always mirrors. eudoxus' lost book
enopira (gk: mirror, to look at, wonders, as miracle)
is a descriptive list of constellations.

in order to map sky relationships, italian made brass
armillary spheres.

the horse constellation, mistakenly called pegasus,
is actually mellanipe: chiron's daughter. cursed for
disclosing secrets of the gods, she was punished and
turned into a mare.  mirror.

repaving desire = de + siderae: that the beloved is
also a mirror. that wd be "you"

In typing this here, I realize how much I like the etymological pleasures of the piece, something for some reason that was harder to appreciate while listening.

j/j hastain
photo courtesy of Camille Roy

Then, sadly, the reading was running beyond 7 pm and I had a previous commitment and needed to leave, so I missed j/j hastain's reading. So,  I've borrowed one of j/ j's poems from E* Ratio:

from xems

by j/j hastain

Waking one morning on the daybed, with a huge, ragged leaf covering my hands, I shook my head hard.  Feeling like I was floating and that my hands were bound within, being bitten by the triptych leaf that covered them, I was not sure if I was dreaming. 

The pervasive sunlight that had been pouring through the lace strands hanging down over the window, during all of the other times I had been sitting on the daybed, was gone.  A strong gray in its place.  This gray did not feel like non-sun nor like any version of an opposite.  It felt like stunning-ly other.  An exposed gland.  Like viewing from inside of it, an excessively large Adam’s apple. 

Were xems expanding clits cosmic Adam’s apples?  Were xems glued-in pages a brink-based, masculine, limitless speaking that came from those expansions?  From synonym regarding or from a mélange between dick and clit?  I added this question to the list of notes I had been gathering in my journal. 

Below an oil-smear on the last page in my journal:

The image of xems crying into their book.  Crying with grief and crying with what they were able to turn grief into.  Their opera of grief and its back pages soaked in the particular and shared salts of their bodies. 

How that winter night before they found each other in form, xe walked up to the base of the mountain during the blizzard and poured the sopping red wax xe had been carrying in the form of a burning candle, into the gathering snow. 

There are new and necessary elegances.  Landscapes of ample lambs. 

Sweet phonograph attending to and demanding.  Their hope was that together they could play through, without need for any striking.  Oh, these reoccurringly vanishing and reappearing princes.  Making evermore tactile the anarchic act. 

What a weekend!


Norma Cole and Gail Scott hosted by the Poetry Center

The Poetry Center presented Norma Cole and Gail Scott on a dark and windy Saturday night at the Hosfelt Gallery on Utah Street in San Francisco. What a space--large and white with Jay DeFeo's artwork around us, darkness and a spattering of rain outside that withheld its full measure for the precise moment when we left.

Jay DeFeo's "Untitled" from the Jewelry Series,
 part of the Mechanics Exhibition at the Hosfelt Gallery

The acoustics were a bit of a challenge, but the warehouse gallery's austere beauty was an appropriate setting. The large crowd shivered and leaned forward to listen. Yedda Morrison's daughter, Eve, busied herself with an array of small rolls of colored tape, producing her own artwork in the midst of DeFeo, Cole, and Scott.

Eve's reading art
photo courtesy of Yedda Morrison

Norma Cole with Jay DeFeo's work in the background
photo courtesy of Amy Trachtenberg

Beginning the evening by honoring the memory of the recently deceased Anne-Marie Albiach, Norma read her translation of Albiach's "Gradiva," meaning "the woman who walks." The Gradiva is a neo-Attic Roman bas relief depicting a woman striding forward, lifting her robe as she goes. Norma told us that Wilhelm Jensen wrote a novel entitled Gradiva and Freud analyzed it. The word has a rich artistic lineage:  Salvador Dali used it as a nickname for his wife, Gala Dali, and Andre Breton named a Paris gallery after it.

Éditions Spectres familiers, 1984


            She keeps—a vocal issue “Stretched” in the hangings’ dark weight.  Water repeating eats away the panes :  falls :  overhangs the black drop.  Night.  voice.  It leaches myth from she who, torch in hand, plunges into the glassworks of night.  Characters keep watch for the rising theme.  voice provides alternative and recovers, while the actors’ tears mime disappearances.  she undergoes the torment of repeated absence, and voice restates the tones of the encounter and of the disappearance.
            the absence in voice plays several times.  As the painted tone dis-plays color’s fixity, to several degrees. white is disrobed; the body bound closely in sweet-smelling bindings  “the lied pierces a naked body a tapestry devours” the everpresent threat sways with the night.  She keeps to the passageway
            Again to the lips rise destitution’s archaic formulas. An alternate structure of formulation: everything that happens as though on stage at an opera unfolding plunges into the wings, archives of an almost forgotten act with a factitious wound throbbing beneath its dressings:they play with alternating instants a close game. A body shatters falls back on the couch: “voice mounts in a stain that flattens on the canvas” the nape bears the dark drapery’s fall
            Is there an answer to this discontinuous line that bears myth?
            Is there an answer they repeat?      the jewels—the jewels that keep the symbolic body protect it from falling through the pane.   the song   A formulated city and its stratified pillars.  From which emerge the steps of a Gradiva dressed for the second encounter.
            In the leaves they come slowly back to their body.  They could run on the slick grounds, sliding voice has unfolded, the dressings fall. This hurt ankle does not prevent him from going to meet her
            Light will gather in the awakening of memory put to death and in this array of colors

Translated from the French by Norma Cole
 [AVEC 7, Spring 1994]

Norma then read some work from her new book, WIN THESE POSTERS AND OTHER UNRELATED PRIZES INSIDE, published by Omnidawn.

About this book, Jean Daive has written:

I think deeply that Win These Posters comes first of all from the voice and the modalities of its call. I also deeply think the poems come from the wall and modalities of shouting out like posters, announcements, notices, placards, tags/graffiti, in short anything that cries out, calls, protests exactly like Mayakovsky's posters/signs that set the revolutionary crowds on fire.

And from Etal Adnan:

I really love WIN THESE POSTERS...These poems give us an intense and subtle pleasure, while they sink into a double melancholy: theirs, and ours. Why? "Because [they bring the news that] even the sun has cancer," "which means we're in a war," on "a page of flames." Norma's vision is of a world of ordinary violence mixing with ordinary life, but also of an extreme violence raping the soul. That vision has here surpassed her own intellectual powers, which are amazing, has traversed ages and galaxies, and moved by a seldom encountered profound tenderness for the pain of living, has reached the ultimate unity between mind, heart, and events, in words that leave us totally disarmed."

Here are some excerpts from the spare and shimmering

14000 Facts

Their lives are longer
than they look

in those days, we had
the windows open

there was another freezer
under the freezer


Further harmony
falling from the sky
              lavender oil, meteor
              dust, flakes of gold
              and cinnabar)

                                    too close

     or something

once heard


The limits of my
language are not
the limits of my

blasted world
the dread
the pink cloud

was flesh
and blood


Was killed at, in
can't quite picture it

border imagination
what's locus?

staring at the fog
                       out of




so far you've
failed to die

music                     still
at hand or arm's length

Hermes, the sun
is not ours


Held up at gunpoint
respond with fire

They fished his coat out of the
river and held it up to the fire

to dry.  When moved to
speak, you spoke


Slow walking, play
of evening, the silver
ships measuring time

Venus, a sliver
of time
beyond words        (37-43)

The pleasures are legion in Cole's book, here resonant hum of Keats and Spicer; words lean in and stretch out to one another, become entwined, are pulled apart. I look forward to spending more time with this book.  You should buy it as a holiday present for yourself or someone you love.


Gail Scott was up next and she read from her new book The Obituary, published by Nightboat Books.

Here's some background info about the novel from Scott's blog:

Gail Scott. In the foreground Steve Dickison
photo courtesy of Amy Trachtenberg
Rosine is surrounded by ghosts. Ghosts of family. Ghosts of past lovers. Ghosts of an old Montreal and its politics. Ghosts of the Montreal quarry workers who, in the 1880s, frequented the Crystal Palace gardens, upon whose ruins her Mile-End triplex sits. Her dead maternal family is there, too, with their restlessness, their stories, their forgotten indigenous ancestry, their little crimes and glories. There’s even the ghost of an ancient Parisian gendarme lurking in the dark stairwell, peering through her keyhole.

Rosine herself may be a ghost, her voice splintered -- sometimes a prurient fly buzzing over the action, sometimes a politically correct historian, a woman perpetually travelling on a bus or lying in bed -- and so too is our understanding of narrative. In offering up a kaleidoscopic view of Rosine and her city, The Obituary fractures our expectations of what a novel should be -- allowing the history of assimilation, so violent in the West and so often sidelined by the French–English conflicts of Montreal, to burble up and infect the very language we use.

Though a mystery, possibly involving murder, The Obituary is less a whodunnit than an investigation of who speaks when we speak.
--from Gail Scott's blog

Scott explained that the "plot" of her novel borrows from Dial M for Murder. It includes multiple voices, a lesbian who speaks in footnotes to keep the story on track, a fly, two cops who are surveilling the character, Rosine. The novel is a multilingual work, rich and demanding, and I am eager to have time to dive in. Here's a bit from the delightful beginning:

These Wars on the Radio
Are Keeping Us from Our Own

In pale Mile-End, behind the night sheds, little pink clouds come tippling tippling down. And huge yellow maple leaves, not cold enough to turn red, tumbling, tumbling on regrowing November grass, to lie like yellow hands. From the kitchen radio, the ack-ack-swat of the most sophisticated of bombs weighing up to two tons falling on rubbles of sand + broken stone desert people called home.......Oh X
                                                 do you remember
                                      when Afghan spelt dope
                                         embroidered vests, vast
                                              windswept steppes
                                        with tanned shaggy fashion models
                                                standing slant on them?


I'm that Face on the 3rd. She looks out, barely visible behind those grey venetians in upper Triplex window. This former resident of madame B's in the town of S-D has a reputation for hating children. I also liking cats. Enough not to have one. That overconfident ground-floor Potter with chocolate Lab named Latte feigning shock when I told her that. She's from The Outers, so instead of the friendly tangled back courtyards we used to have, now looking down from Settler-Nun flats onto North American's biggest crop: lawn. Hours get spent artfully arranging plastic lawn sets shaped like dinosaurs in it. Her chocolate Lab following her all day, nuzzling nuzzling trying to get attention. Occasionally she throwing a crumb his way, just enough for keeping addicted.

But whatever inciting me to say my name means French pet, diminutive of multiple layers + possibilities? Rest assured, dear X, a tale's encrypted mid all these future comings + goings of parlour queens, telephone girls, leather divas, Grandpa's little split-tailed fis'. A tale unspeakable as owls in ceaseless vigil staring from eyes round + amber as that  cat Etta's [more of whom soon]. Please be further advised only epiphanic afternoons shall herein be remembered.Circumstantially, I am posturing as woman of inchoate origin [problematically, I can hear you saying]. To underscore how we are haunted by secrets of others. Such as they colporting spite from The Outers to rue Settler-Nun, Mile-End, QC. Further absorbing under surface of community amenity, bitter particles of those going there before--the Shale Pit Workers! Floating up from burnt-down Crystal Palace, whose rotting pylons still directly under. Where once upon a time, when it not being used for smallpox hospice, British officers use to hold their
They were rumored not to like girls like me very much
They also hated Indians.
This is better documented.
By the end of our tale, we may likewise be dead.     (5-7)

About Gail's mesmerizing book, Bob Gluck writes:

It seems to me that Scott's superb novel, The Obituary, is a model for what can be accomplished. It tells a story from all fronts at once and locates itself between English and French. It's a no holds barred book in that it conveys a huge and even brutal sadness, a daring sadness...The alienations that occur inside the self (class, race) are realized on a formal level, and so here is an example of a splendid leap over that great divide, from content to form.

And Carla Harryman notes:

Gail Scott's gorgeous, innovative prose is incomparable. Here we find it in the service of profound work on ethnicity and sexuality. This novel's polyphonic, multi-sited transpositions of the historical past and its ghosts of everyday life, construct a modern subjectivity that has no choice but to refuse historical denial at its sutured core. This is one of the most compelling works of our new century.

I am eager to read more of Scott's book. Aren't you?

Find out more about Norma Cole and Gail Scott at the Poetry Center website.

Buy these and other fabulous small press books at Small Press Distribution.