Poetry by Beverly Dahlen

The Small Press Traffic Tribute to Beverly Dahlen on December 13, 2008 ended with Beverly performing a retrospective reading of her work from the seventies into the nineties. We were fortunate to hear several poems that had not been published or read previously in public and Beverly has kindly made her selection of work available here on Xpoetics. Please enjoy! Click HERE to read the papers given in tribute to Beverly.

Follow these links to get to:

"A Note from My Tree" & "The Law of Rocks" 1974

"An Appearance in Clear Weather" 1974

"Language" 1978

from "Hearings (the effect of light)" 1987

from "A Reading" 1988

"Unititled" 1991

from A Reading 1993

Six Untitled Poems 1993

Six Untitled Poems

by Beverly Dahlen

Cornered one
whistles a
little larking
thought to
settle it

Buffalo girls
won’t you
come out


See who’s
at the door
the stars
toasting Orion’s
belt Venus
peeked over
the horizon


What can never
be more
than silent this
trace of
absence between the
dark tongue
and moon’s storied


what about
it you can’t
have known
I’d be
alone &
at the bus


Given an ear
tongue marks
the flowering
of the bell
her hand &
all loveliness
& falling
through the air


How be
not one
be there
going be
fore me she
be going
there an
other such
one when
outhanded go
one some
other be


For Victoria
February 14, 1993



by Beverly Dahlen

The woman goes on display. She is fiery and caressive,
billowing in a prepared speech, hatless, leaning, she
steps into her clothes. The fine check of the tip of
her tongue on the points of her teeth is barely visible
to the observer beside her as she rolls and plunges with
utterance. She is enchanted with enactment. Fingers
flow through the lapping hair, then an arm darts forward,
piscean, reptilian, a gesture of Medusa, the gnashing
of Helen.

She is truly ethereal, cunning, but suddenly clouded
with content, she is swept beneath the flood. Wordless
in disaster, whipped in the brisk air, she turns slowly
floating. She is wistful as Ophelia, nagging with her
blank stare. Her heart spits and whispers bent low to
the microphone. She glitters, she breathes. Tempting
as a victim, she pauses and cheers. In that moment she
breaks, grinning. The audience goes up in smoke. She
is stricken with applause.

March, 1991

from A Reading

by Beverly Dahlen

now there can be nothing left but adjectives. this, that will be. corn. a root. a word that is not. not a word. a word taking place. taking its place, it comes in to sit down at the table, lifts its head, seeing what is inside it. all this pathetic fallacy. this is not a window, it is perhaps a mirror. the mirror, most mysterious of objects.

through a glass, he said, and darkly. nothing in the light. light, light, that illusion. leading on towards something, cutting into it. what is the link, a linking verb, this is, copulative. the metaphor. this is that. in the sense that it is summer.

it is not a person, place, or thing. it is not anything. one can suggest the absence, can lie. it is not there. cutting the ground out. making it hollow.

a three-part invention, a stereo hand, a leg up, help. help for the aged and the needy. for widows and orphans. all the older people I know who are orphans. don’t they miss it. don’t they still want to be children. now they must take care of the world.

taking care, take care of the sense and the sound will take care of itself, but then if there were no authors there would be no books. if there were no machines would that be poverty. it was in the cards, there at the beginning. to take care of itself. generating Lapland, other places, a change of scene, a change of direction right in the middle of a sentence. do sentences move in directions. do they rather curl up around themselves and go to sleep. do they rather coil like a snake, are they little bombs, do they go off. do they show you anything, who can prove it. don’t you live there everyday, it can’t be more complex than the real world.

a work of art, I’m sorry, I have another plan.

Text of Chax broadside, 1988. Passage originally published in Conjunctions

from A Reading

by Beverly Dahlen

zero zero three eight. nine five seven six. two eight five one zero. zero zero zero nine. five nine four one. one one eight. four three one seven. seven five six. one. four eight two one. five two some one. some one two ones. those ones. any one. more than one. one more. four. tour four hour pour sour. your soup. you pour your sour soup on the tour at four. you have an hour. adios.

nine feet tall. five foot six inches. ten stone. one potato two potato three potato four. five potato six potato seven potato more. out. o-u-t spells out and out goes you.

to out. outing. a summer outing in pale outfits. to fit out. read out, speak out. to say your name. to have one’s name called, fingered. a line drawn through the name, the name marked, numbered, equivalent to. to answer to your name, to be, being that name. any such assignment, a category. noun. person. place. thing. idea. the idea of the thing. going.

the furniture of the name, armature. propped on a name, going out leaning. number. no one.

the idea of naming a thing by a number. color. the resident quality. to name a child angel, a handle. to cast out the names one after another, to be drawn in a lot, to have one’s name drawn at random, unknown, to discover later the act, after the fact. to be gone, absent, unaware. a name without a thing, person, a name in stone. gone.

no name. no one. no two alike. out of the third, another speaking.

June/July, 1993
for V.H.

Published in River City (University of Memphis), Spring, 1994

from Hearings (the effects of light)

by Beverly Dahlen

the effects of light
that slow hand of vapor
across the blue sky of one's own
viscera or the soundless wave of
shadow cascading down
the street our fragile
   only pause to name perspective
   as that rendition at the surface


that this is not correct either I sent a message
to Mr. McFarlane and the intelligence relation-
ship with Israel on June 7 1985 it had been an
Israeli initiative vice-admiral Poindexter and Is-
rael would have an interest in my impression at
the the time you are recorded as having said
because we were trying to persuade everybody
not to sell arms to Iran and sometimes literally
at war with them whereas our view is that we
are better off and that's the end of your quota-
tion and yet their interests might be slightly dif-
ferent from ours that I think that had something
to do with the background but it bears upon some
of the other facts of the political situation that
update referred primarily to what you had ad-
dressed yourself in the draft finding with the
State department

source: the Iran/Contra hearings of summer, 1987

Published in Sequoia: Stanford Literary Magazine, Winter, 1990


by Beverly Dahlen

Some of you now living will bend your breath to these words
which are and are not breathing
not here but in the leaping, in the eye that shines upon
the morning, the long softness of the young pine--

these things come into it already, the pine, the roses,
as ghosts of themselves into which you breathe.
Do you see pine and roses? Where in the world are they?

These things are emblems here of the not nothing which you are
if you are breathing. Have your pine and roses. Have your own
kind. The particular hair and dewdrop circumscribed. This

is mine. It takes the place of the sun. It fails.
The garden is beyond the window. The pine and roses intertwined
in a lush static. And the sun is there also beyond the
window. Where otherwise would it be? The breathing fails.

It is in me, in a darkness.
These dark words waver in your light, in your mouth.
Everything beyond them is innocent. You
and I
have known this from the beginning.

May, 1978

Published in Gallery Works Four, San Francisco, 1979.
Eds. Peter Holland, Jeanne Lance and John Yurechko

An Appearance in Clear Weather

by Beverly Dahlen

I don't understand this light these
burns which finding them go all the way
back to what
not single event
though I can't be sure
I can't remember
what I ran into during the night
what would explain these scars
thick in this morning's wind
this fire must have happened a long time
before I was born
or     what was it
a fire?
what could have done this to me

I can't account for the way it seems to keep
growing in the light

From Out of the Third, Momo's Press, San Francisco, 1974: 2
Published by Stephen Vincent

A Note From My Tree and The Law of Rocks

by Beverly Dahlen

A Note from my Tree

Beginning at the skin
I work my way inward along the branches
looking for the one that leads to the ground.
I have been out here a long time now.
Many nights.
They are not sending the rescue teams.
There are too many people lost
in the mountains. The helicopters beat
back and forth looking for bodies.
My brother is stationed
somewhere in the jungle. Here is his picture
with field glasses. He has lost a lot of weight
and can't ever come home.
My father is out in his rowboat alone at night
trying to save people from drowning.
My mother won't come out of the bathroom.
If I am quiet she won't see me.

The Law of Rocks

      is keeping still.

They do not move against us.

They move. In their own time.

They have no time.
We cannot understand them at all.

Unless they are broken.

That way we eat them.
It keeps us from madness.

from Out of the Third, published by Momo's Press, 1974


Rachel Zolf and Christian Bök

Last Night at SPT

San Francisco welcomed two engaging Canadian poets to Timken Hall. First up, Rachel Zolf was a conductor bringing us into a linguistic version of Koyaanisqatsi. Things unfolded and came apart and regrouped with lightening speed--woooooosh--and then fell into a time-lapse photography slo-mo. An etymological efflorescence. My brain struggled to keep up as she took us everywhere. A portion of her work addresses the contemporary nightmare of violence in Palestine and Israel. The piece I most responded to in the context of this reading was "The Neighbor Procedure" in which self and other, neighbor and neighbor, enemy and neighbor, neighbor's enemies' neighbors, etc., fold and unfold, collide and come apart.

Christian Bök was up next. This is the second time I've heard Christian read/perform. Both times I've found myself smiling and cringing. It is an experience. I am mesmerized by the sheer performativity of the event. Whether it is French or English or pure sound and screech, Christian throws his whole body into it. Hearing and watching him is like witnessing elocution lessons accompanied by the zing of too many energy drinks downed too quickly or too much speed. Yet, it is controlled. A high wire act. Something about Christian in his black suit and white shirt (maybe he even had a tie on?) contrasts with the muscular bombast of the circus barker. I really enjoyed the selection from Eunoia that he read/performed. A chapter on the vowel O. Fabulous. His piece, "Busted Sirens," was a response to Ron Silliman's "Sunset Debris" and all of its myriad interrogatives; Bök ran Silliman's text through some sort of automated robot program--Alicebot--from which he generated the words for his text. Like "Sunset Debris," Bök's version retains the quality of oppressiveness that one might find in Silliman's. Here are some of the questions from "Sunset Debris": “Can you feel it? Does it hurt? Is this too soft? Do you like it? Do you like this? Is this how you like it? Is it alright?” (11).

It was a good evening. The Bay Area experienced some wild performativity from each of these poets whose voices and lungs and language and bodies pushed us beyond our comfort zone. Hooray for that.

Bios from SPT:

Written at the outer edges of procedural restraint, Christian Bök's second book, Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), won the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. An acclaimed performer of sound poetry (particularly the Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters), Bök's conceptual artwork, which includes books built out of Rubik's cubes and Lego bricks, has appeared at New York City's Marianne Boesky Gallery as part of the exhibit Poetry Plastique. His first book, Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. He has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley's Amazon. Bök is currently a professor of English at the University of Calgary.

Rachel Zolf’s most recent poetry collection, Human Resources (Coach House, 2007), won the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award. Her previous collections are Masque (Mercury, 2004) and Her absence, this wanderer (BuschekBooks, 1999, 2009--revised). Chapbooks published are Shoot and Weep (Nomados, 2008), from Human Resources (Belladonna, 2005) and the naked & the nude (above/ground, 2004). Her work appears in the anthology Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry and a forthcoming Coach House anthology of Canadian innovative women’s poetry and poetics. She has published and performed her poetry across Canada and the U.S., and her critical essays have appeared in Xcp: Cross-Cultural Poetics, West Coast Line and Open Letter. She was the founding poetry editor of The Walrus magazine and has edited several books by other poets. She is currently the recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship supporting a poetic project on competing knowledges in Israel-Palestine, entitled The Neighbour Procedure.


Two Prairie Style Poems from C.S Giscombe

photo: Susan Jaffer (purloined from the EPC site).

Because it is my pleasure, I share with you two of C.S. Giscombe's poems each with the title "Prairie Style" from his book of the same name published in 2008 by The Dalkey Archive. Saw an excerpt from this on Aldon Nielsen's blog and had to get the book. Giscombe's book was a winner of The Before Columbus Foundations'2008 American Book Awards. If you want to hear Giscombe reading click here.


The direction going out--in the business past direction then and
avoiding love's blunt teeth there. Done with houses and wanting to be
seen as a boundary or as a line of plot re-appearing, done with all that
too. Houses cleave and, to me, it all gets hammered out in overstatement--
love's a terror, a revelation cleaving to contours. Love's a terror,
in town and out of town too.

I was an unqualified marker, some days the ache of an implicit region.
Nothing to the bear but bad hair. Having missed the trace the first time
through I found coming a specificity hard to pronounce: rive of unaccented
speech, a single voice to mark it all off. Well this is namelessness
up here, this inward, and nothing but the curl will do.

Love's over there, to me, the old terror.


A sexual image about the prairie ought to be a good idea: it'd have no
meaning in a larger context and its existence, furiously local, might make
outline itself a high level of vernacular--the image might be the sum of
dire and hopeless songs, more of an after-image really. Love
might be, in general, a revelation but sex could have a shape
or a figure with which one could remember it; the speaker could recognize
it or could himself cause recognition to occur. Love might be a terror--the hesitation past town--but sex could be content and outline both, until the
watcher (or the listener) turns away.

Male, female. Black men say trim. An outline's sameness is, finally, a
reference. Towns, at a distance, are that--how they appear at first, a
dim cluster, and then from five or six miles off; how they look when
you're only three miles away. Inbetween sightings is the prairie itself
to get across: trek, trace, the trick of landscape. Love suffers its wish-
fulness--it's an allegorical value and the speaker mimes allegory with
descriptions of yearning, like the prairie's joke on us (among us). In-
land's a name, a factory, something to say; the thing upon which the image verges, the thing push articulates.


Small Press Traffic: Kaia Sand, Yedda Morrison, and Kim Rosenfield

These Three Women Rocked the House!

In various ways, history--no, maybe it is the present and its barrage of catastrophe--and performance turned up and over in the disparate work of these three poets.

Kaia Sand read "Remember to Wave," and poems using only language culled from NAFTA and her poem "The President Probably Talks." You can read this latter poem and others by Sand online HERE.

Sand put together a contrapuntal performance: she mined the local, putting next to one another instructions and lists for materials to be brought to an "assembly center," read Japanese Internment Camp (note how they had names like Harmony Camp and Heart Mountain)which were read onstage by SPT's new director Samantha Giles, while Sand interspersed lines that seem to be culled from marketing information and other sources about "revolutinary pod storage containers."

Lines I jotted down while Kaia read:

"What a relief portable on-demand shelter"

"alterations can't be allowed"

Out of the language of NAFTA, Sand put together writing that is simultaneously beautiful and horrific.

"in the use of the
in the man of the"

"a burn is full of feeling"

"live swine
illuminated signs"

Yedda Morrison was up next. The lights were dimmed, a little battery-operated lantern sat on the podium, Yedda donned a camper's khaki vest, and at one point, mosquito netting. Morrison's reading was riveting. I sat in my seat and felt every cell of my body leaning forward. She held us at a pitch as she read from Girl Scout Nation. I couldn't jot down any of Morrison's lines because Timken Hall was dark and I hadn't brought enough cash or a check (who carries a checkbook anymore?) to buy a copy there. Large, and to the side of her on the screen: A photo of--was it a stream with mist?--and trees. Black and white. This must be one of Morrison's photos--? Her reading was haunting, scary, gorgeous. Narrative shows up like bread crumbs on a trail and then you are looking up, listening to all those bird calls--"who cooks for you," "who cooks for you."

About Girl Scout Nation, Gail Scott has written: "There is rage, here, the body where it meets the staggering earth, contained in the tiny catapulting figure of Scout, herself contained by the entire rage of the planet; and this rage is the more effective for being 'the deep glowing red inside the barrel,' for being nowhere and everywhere, for being a girl, 'just a girl there/ daddy.' Both primal and urbane, Girl Scout Nation is rich hard realism on its way to Disney upside down."

Kim Rosenfield took the stage following Morrison and read from re: evolution. Her reading also entailed performace--scraps of song refrains--"helpless, helpless, helpless" as she let go dry, wry, and stuttering lines in the midst of song:

"who has the power to establish a version of the self"

"breathe before you think"

"what happens when you like the merchandising better than the man"

"almost the last thing that keeps people together is the law"

About Rosenfield's Krupskaya book Tràma, Brian Kim Stefans has written:

"Put this on the shelf (oh but please take it off again) next to Ashbery’s Girls on The Run, the book-length proses of Carla Harryman and Stacy Doris, and your DVDs of Guy Maddin, L’Atalante and Wladyslaw Starewicz’s The Mascot—fairy tales creepier to adults who know a thing or two about “ammonia and advice,” and perhaps less about keeping balance in a world of eternal, Buffy-style recurrence. Rosenfield’s part collage, part suede and suave therapeutic technique creates a “voice” that wavers, furtive yet spikily resonant in the amplified tick of the second hand, as the carnal “self” is further contaminated by the freezer-burn of a world run by patents, portents, and hawkish impatience, yet begs to extend its lease with the mirror stage. Read this book for its honey and ash, and sleep easier."

Want to read more the work of these writers? Check out SPT's blog HERE for links.

Here are some formal bios for these three:

Writer and visual artist Yedda Morrison was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Morrison’s books include: Girl Scout Nation (Displaced Editions, 2008), My Pocket Park (Dusie Press, 2007), and Crop (Kelsey Street Press, 2003). Morrison has exhibited her work in the US and Canada and is currently represented by Republic Gallery in Vancouver, BC (republicgallery.com). She lives in Montreal.

Kim Rosenfield is a poet and psychotherapist. She is the author of three books of genre/blurring language; Good Morning--Midnight-- (Roof Books 2001), which won Small Press Traffic’s Book of the Year award in 2002, Tràma (Krupskaya 2004), and re: evolution (Les Figues Press 2008). She lives in NYC with her husband, poet Robert Fitterman and their daughter, Coco.

Kaia Sand is the author of the poetry collection interval (Edge Books 2004), selected as a Small Press Traffic Book of the Year, and co-author with Jules Boykoff of Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry and Public Space. Dusie Press published her wee book, lotto, and Sand has participated in the dusie kollektiv for three years, making the chapbooks heart on a tripod and tiny arctic ice. Jim Dine created two artist book based on Sand’s poems, lotto and tiny arctic ice. Remember to Wave, multi-media investigations of political histories lodged in Pacific Northwest of the United States, is forthcoming with Tinfish Press. The NAFTA, a chapbook of collages, is forthcoming with Duration Press e-chap series. Sand co-edits the Tangent Press.

[Bios from Small Press Traffic]

Photo: Lee Azus, Yedda Morrison, and Arnold Kemp

And then last, but certainly not least: a gift from David Brazil of copy of TRY!, a photocopied and stapled journal he edites with Sara Larsen.


Rachel Blau DuPlessis on Beverly Dahlen

A Message For and To Beverly Dahlen

The H.D.-ean and Freudian and Duncanesque poetics of significant nodules, verbal accidents, dreams, repeated images as generating interpreted meaning…of entering those dots as through a little hole and trusting that they will open worlds upon worlds for meditation…of the discipline and risk of interpretation as formidable acts of poesis…of constructing an unrolling spool or scroll, never to be completed, a landscape and lang-scape of social, personal, psychological, political, literary, lettristic materials…of articulating a surface and depth both on the surface in a free play of great deliberation and force…this begins to sum up Beverly Dahlen’s work to me. In her practice of writing-the-“reading,” she appears to spin her mind around and through literally everything that can be and can become, nothing foreign, nothing unspeakable, and makes a thread that cannot be broken (although it might be interrupted). This is the hypnotically interesting record, the compelling practices of the mind thinking itself through the world in language. But it’s not only that, but also being inside the thinking itself as a practice of “reading,” which means making, which means representing, which means tracking, which means choosing, which means submitting to, which means risking that one can make this vectored “line” of language that can pulse out of one’s being with a sense of ethical and historical Being, because of, and through thinking itself. This sentence was circular. Precisely. Bev Dahlen’s work, her example, her practice, her risk have meant something tremendous and important to me, and I want to add my word of love and thanks to others’ praise of her achievements.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis


Lauren Shufran on Beverly Dahlen

“there are two or maybe even 18, no the number approaches infinity, ways of saying this.” That’s Dahlen, in recognition of the profound distance between the thresholds of the residual, which contains as many apertures for admission as there are entries into interpretation. I use “admission” here not only to acknowledge the access, the re-approaching, that “A Reading” endeavors, but also the voluntary and autobiographical truth-telling contained therein.

The thing about the residual of the daily is plenty of us decline to persist there; Dahlen lingers in our absence – neither as respite nor as intermission, since the work by no means seeks ease, nor would it presume the textual could ever function as total sanctuary (she once said “I don’t agree (to begin with) that “poetry is to stop fear.” It may focus fear or anxiety but stop it? No.”) – but just long enough, and just urgently enough to assemble, to perform response as an offering to the immediate past, making the utterance contiguous with its moment. “A Reading” acknowledges its participation in a totality both textual and experiential, but the totality is such that the two become indistinguishable. It is the exploration of limits as such: a work whose extent, scope, and duration is equivalent to the life of the writer who writes it: the writing an extension of one’s reading, the construction a materialization of how one has construed. It grapples necessarily, then, with both authority and the authorial, polyvalent in registering its collaborators, but singular in its subversion of the hierarchical, as each digression is also fundamental, as each digression is also a locus: or (this is Dahlen): “it seemed to me then that we had stumbled upon a clue of greater significance than we might easily be able to unravel.”

Does “A Reading” sacrifice privilege to the practice of preservation? Probably. Does it convoke the arbitrary? Most likely. And because each section is accompanied by the date of its revision, not only is the living recorded, but the text becomes a record of its own being written. “A Reading” is an exploration in how to refuse to close the parentheses, how to circumscribe the interminable, how never to leave it alone… and though “somewhere we tread a line that is not total,” to write a complement to that which is serially unfinished, and to write that complement within it. (Dahlen): “if the word does not arise it will fall back, the thing itself, it will fall again into that ocean where it is not biodegradable. it is not truly broken up into its constituent parts. it is a hunk of something indigestible.”

This is from “A Reading (16)”…


Tributes to Beverly Dahlen

Here are many of the talks/tributes on/to Beverly Dahlen from the Small Press Traffic Event, Saturday, December 13, 2008.

Thanks to Small Press Traffic and to each of the speakers and to Beverly! Others will be posted as they become available.

Charles Alexander

Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Bruce Boone

Kathleen Fraser

Jocelyn Saidenberg

Ron Silliman

Lauren Shufran

Stephen Vincent's Beverly Dahlen Haptic

Stephen Vincent's Review of Dahlen's A Reading 18-20 in Crayon


Charles Alexander on Beverly Dahlen


I feel like I’ve always been a-reading Beverly Dahlen’s poetry, that she had me with

before that and before that

the place where A Reading One begins, the place that demarcates nothing, and lets us know that what is not the poem is also the poem, the after/before potentially unending in all directions, beginning, if anywhere, at Babel, or at the

tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik

that underlies “this sensorium” and is a possible path toward understanding the semiotic, the chora. And Beverly was there

tracking it. already at the beginning.

My beginning here, filled with quotations from the first published volume of A Reading (thank you Momo’s Press & Stephen Vincent), is not quite the beginning of my experience of reading Beverly Dahlen. I first found her work while employed in a rare book library, having begun writing and learning to print, eventually to publish – found her work both in that library in Madison Wisconsin, and in a woman’s bookstore there, Lysistrata, where I also first discovered work by Lorine Niedecker and Susan Howe.

Thus – a little earlier in Beverly’s oeuvre, one reads in Out of the Third, in the poem “Tree” as it begins

what I
and you said
I said nothing

and she also writes

this is my mother: she has no name

the name of my father
is the same as the name of
his father
and his father’s name
is the same as
his father’s name
and before that I don’t know
they all get lost in the ocean

She establishes here her ongoing concern for several issues: right here, very early in her work.

1) the mother has no name, and has a quite different and entirely open/blank
page being “in language”
2) the ongoing, never-ending/beginning fact of being as earlier noted in “before that and before that”
3) the sense that nothing is nothing is in language and is something, possibly everything
4) the centrality of the tautological

And here I jump from this early book to Dahlen’s 1988 essay (now after A Reading 1-7 and near the publication time of A Reading 11-17 and A Reading 8-10 and even after the writing of A Reading 18-20, which was published much later), first given as a talk in a series I sponsored in Tucson, The Magritte Sessions – an essay titled “Tautology and the Real,” where she notes that

At some point the writer may apprehend that there are no “other words,” that language itself is an enclosed, self-referential system, that it takes the form of a vast tautology, circular and exclusive, that “it allows,” to quote Terence Hawkes, “no single, unitary appeals to a ‘reality’ beyond itself.

Or, put another way, this before that and before that is all there or all HERE, multiple, simultaneous; the before ocean or semiotic or chora is also the NOW, and it is, as the “I” says in “Tree” (as well as in many places in Dahlen’s work), a “nothing.” But what is nothing? It is the space through the holes in all attempts to transcribe the real, it is what escapes, it is the “no appeal that desire can make to the real.”

Nothing. She ends the essay “Tautology and the Real,”

Nothing is diamond is mind. [my emphases]There will always be a reading of “nothing” in which it is full, rather than empty.

To such irreducibilities one must point, and close.
Yet what closes? The epigraph to A Reading 1-7 reads,

Wittgenstein asked where, when, and by what rationally established criterion the process of free yet potentially linked and significant association in psychoanalysis could be said to have a stop. An exercise in “total reading” is also potentially unending.

This epigraph is credited to George Steiner’s After Babel, and immediately after reading the words “after Babel” we turn the page to “before that.” So we have all of time, and a rhyme: after Babel / before that. Significantly in that beginning to A Reading, no capital letters: no beginnings, in other words (no other words).

No man knoweth the day or the hour
* * *

Something new occurs in the most recent books of Beverly Dahlen, even if all the writing is not entirely “new.” Still as always concerned with time not being time, space being what and where we are, tautology opening on to excess and the emptiness that is full, she more often becomes funny, political, and rails against systems and inanities (same thing?) that would deny obvious truths (which may be that there are no truths). So you get, not A Reading, but the nursery song-styled “A-reading” as in “a-milking we will go,” or here, “A-reading Spicer we will go,” where

there it is now      
pure products
       our beautiful setting
       the props
   Shkspeare’s terrible prophecy: all the world’s a stage

   private property
   ends and means
   ‘staggering’ fences

the blatant wellwisher’s hole in the face

Don’t we never cease thinking the universe harbors intelligence?
Why should it? Why should it necessarily be us?

The dialectic is not mocked.

everbody talking ‘bout heaven
ain’t a-goin’ there

(the latter two lines spelled out as in a pronunciation dictionary)

or in the marvelous A Reading 20, where evil is seen as both banal and comic, as in, let’s get out of this place where

these gaudy primates dressed in the rags of the new bewilder
the finest distinctions in the course of a minute or two, fine
in the sense of subtle.

fine-tuning the blunt instrument produces spectacular results.
I mean in the sense of circus. the eyes of Texas are upon you.

I mean Texas in the sense of extremes. the blunt instrument.
the comedy as well as the banality of evil. I mean in the sense
of place. that high and windy moral tone.

and in these lines full of repetitions, where “I mean” and “I mean” and “I mean” finally mean what they can not contain, we are back to that place where the mapping of the real is most interesting for what exceeds it, for what remains as the nothing that is left.

But a most playful “nothing,” as we would play with sounds words poems figures of speech figures of movement. As in the marvelous sonnets in A-Reading Spicer & 18 Sonnets, where

there he is      I’d say
when he peek a boo’d around the corner as if I were his 
mother     but that’s just the cover story     we can’t help
the age we are    he played for time    and so in a way
did I

and now my own remarks on Beverly Dahlen threaten to become entirely play and tautology, so let me have tautological play, beginning with beginning

tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik tik

and read a bit of a recent poem, not written for Beverly, but that I don’t know if I ever could have written without her – she is, indeed, my “before that and before that”

from Pushing Water 48

stanzas in something other than
meditation shoes still tied
in a gray sweater& on a Monday
the walls are filled with shoes and
dishes and bags and walls the
walls are filled with walls
here I am    between walls
halls and doorways not the
red room but the red sofa the red
ottoman the glow of lamp
the switches switches off and on

the nothing that is far away
the nothing close as skin on face
the nothing at the end of the pen tip
the nothing inside the body
the nothing around everything
only no such thing only what is
the case only not you only
not me time to open the
open eyes

and let me play the game “10 Things to Do with Beverly Dahlen”

go around and around until before that
laugh at the world’s inanity
cry at the world’s inanity that beats and beats
walk in the desert where nothing speaks
talk about mothers and fathers
drink a glass of fine old wine
walk into a color, perhaps a chair, sit down
find the missing part
make a cartoon balloon around “gloriosky / zero” that points to “my dog gone”
draw a curved connection from “a” to “universe”
say to a crowd of people, “Beverly Dahlen I love you”

Thank you very much.

Charles Alexander
13 December 2008
San Francisco, California

[ed. note: apologies to Charles and all as the formatting for the above poem is not accurately reflected here but inconsistencies b/w firefox and explorer make it impossible [at least w/in my skill level here] to remedy.]

Kathleen Fraser on Beverly Dahlen

Thinking about BEVERLY DAHLEN’s presence among us

On a bookshelf, to the left of my work desk, close at hand — where I can see their names and titles and reach for them—stands a particular family of books that have provided for me, since the seventies, a unique intellectual and spiritual fuel for the work of writing beyond, and at a sideways angle, to what once presented itself as a fixed yet devotional world of poetic models.

Across the topmost shelf are the works of Beverly Dahlen, Frances Jaffer and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, together with Barbara Guest, Lorine Niedecker and H.D. Theirs were the poems that sustained me in that particular struggle of the ‘70s to claim legitimacy for a voice located & described from, among other things, a gender’d perspective shaped by Dickinson’s need to tell it slant.

In my shift to the West Coast, it was Beverly’s work that I first encountered as my contemporary--a force of urgent psychological investigation and risk; a mapping of grief’s ancient lineage (its substitutions and wreckage), the pervasive history of our own generation’s political / economic class divides (fury, flat out)…and the notation of these registers as the stop & start of ambivalence and hesitancy willing to make itself visible within the certain intentions of the poem’s making.

Zero, the neonate, the not nothing. The potential.

that was the problem of the new, that something was
potential within the void, that certain potentialities were
appearing constantly, and that it was a larger problem than
that. When did you get the news. How long would it take you
to find that out. When would it reach your ears, finally, that
the world was not flat, that the sun did not come up, that we
came up rather around it.

[ Page 80, from “A Reading—8-10”, Oct. 29-Dec. 31, 1979]

I met Beverly through the poets Mark Linenthal and Frances Jaffer, with whom we later shared Poetry Center work at San Francisco State as well as variously constructed conversations around current poetic practice. But before that work began, and soon after I moved from NYC to San Francisco, Beverly invited me to join a small group of writers who met regularly to read theirs and others’ poems aloud, followed by a give & take discussion.Members included Bev, George Stanley, Larry Felson, Bill Anderson and Jack Gilbert—a very feisty group. The conversations were investigative, rigorous and often politically at odds; the writing tended towards a model of understatement, modesty and severity that stood in great contrast to the rollicking, performative and painterly world of NY school writing I’d encountered previously on the Lower East Side. A necessary correction began to register, already implanted by the work of George Oppen. The times felt perilous and
beyond difficult.

Spicer’s work figured prominently in these discussions and arrived as essential news, an invitation to trust the peculiar shifts and juxtapositions of one’s interior “babble.” His thinking described what I recognized to be the case but had found no language for. At its simplest, I took his idea of the poet as transmitting/receiving instrument, capable of casting broadly—through time and distance—with the capacity to capture and channel the detail that awaited noticing, decoding and voicing within one’s evolving community. Importantly, it defined and underlined a place for each poet willing to make the jump without the guarantee of a readership.

A few years later, Frances Jaffer invited Bev and me to join her in an informal writing group and it was within these years of sharing work that we began to read essays by several of the prominent French women post-structuralist thinkers who followed and /or took issue with leading French philosophers. We read Carolyn Burke’s translation of Luce Irigaray in the journal SIGNS and through a friendship with George and Mary Oppen, we began to read the essays of Rachel Blau DuPlessis. I mention these American scholar/writers, in particular, because the works they were writing about suggested parallel ideas of linguistic rupture and clamoring, multiple selves — vs. the singular self — wanting voice. In these writings we began to find an exciting permission to assert the poetics and related practices that each of us was attempting to forge in her own way.

This was the core conversation that led to the necessity of our inventing the modest journal HOW(ever) that saw its first publication in May 1983 and continued through January of 1991. We were joined in 1985 by Susan Gevirtz, with co-editing work on numbers 1-3,of the final volume VI (1990-91) by Myung Mi Kim and Meredith Stricker.

What I’ve described is not finished; but it was approximately at this point when non-mainstream poetics and practice began to enter the known terrain of the writing community and contributed to the multiplicity we all now almost take for granted.

Beverly’s oracular voice has always been a singular part of this claim, with its
uncompromising insistence on transmitting the frayed and fragile nature of being human, providing a gathering point we are all sustained by. I believe I can speak for many of us here, whose poetry has expanded and deepened because of that writing Beverly has continued to listen for and pin down…and let fly.

Jocelyn Saidenberg on Beverly Dahlen

For Beverly Dahlen
December 13, 2008
Small Press Traffic Tribute
In response to A Reading 8

what is homelike becomes unhomelike in a reversal of fortune. she is our mother grown old.

the moon winked, she rides for us, her red-rimmed eyes. blind truth, it is ‘mediated, female, probably mad.’ the matter of Britain, the matter of Troy. a city lost. a woman on the ramparts. she, she was its downfall, by her treachery, her betrayal. she, Guinevere, or Helen, outside the law, that dangerous radical, the beautiful woman.


because a woman said no. in the beginning a woman said no. no father, no son. I am not that she. bound she came. still she is coiled there, in that leap.

Her Reading bids me solace, a deep pleasure in reading this work aloud, experiencing this reading gives me pleasure in all my senses, the movements from word to word, feeling intelligence in my mouth as it forms the thought, the attention, how it proceeds, makes meaning, finds no meaning, that intensity. The words invite and allow access to this writer’s attention, we move in tandem at times, as she relates to figures, reading as re-interpreting, rummaging through, sorting in literature’s history. She introduces me to the woman who says no, the aversive feminist, a kindred ally, the radical negative, her stubborn immobility, silent potent center, an obstinate death, the women whose no disrupts the law, disrobes speech, interrogates the state, of language, of family, and of war, unmakes and disarticulates the narrative, all that everyone has worked for, the conservatives forces, to which she says no. The women who say no, made visible, audible, through quiet histories of the imagined, what the reading tracks, an ongoing engagement, within a space called unhomelike. She leads me to this uncanny where unhomelike rejects the father, the son, familiar. Her unhomelike conjures a city, a Troy, an island, a coast, creating dwellings for others, for difference, for me, for reading to inhabit, for subjects of reading to self define, working through other configurations, compositions, multiples, repetitions, recursive narratives, no beginning middle end or not in that order, no final words. Reading is unhomelike is a liberatory promise, emancipatory fantasy proposing a radical future for our now.