On:Contemporary Practice 2

(Michael Cross, our master of ceremonies, and one of the editors of ON. Photo: Alan Bernheimer)

Last Wednesday night, February 10, 2010, a bunch of us gathered at Moe's Bookstore in Berkeley to celebrate the publication of ON: Contemporary Practice 2.

ON "serves as a space for dialogue, discourse, and the emergence of new cultural expressions, if not a space for the acknowledgement of unrecognized subjects....[because] transmissiblity and critical conversation are of the utmost importance to grounding an activist function of poetry, a function not so much for a people (in the Hobbesian sense), but for a multitude which is always arriving but has yet to realize its various potential libratory manifestations." ("From Center to Margin," by the editors Michael Cross, Thom Donovan, and Kyle Schlesinger)

This is a large format and beautifully produced magazine. Inside you'll find engaged and thrilling experiments as writers read and think through each other's work. You can find it at Small Press Distribution.

The readers on Wednesday night included: David Brazil, Brandon Brown, Robin Tremblay-McGaw (yours truly), Jocelyn Saidenberg, Alli Warren and Suzanne Stein, Dan Thomas-Glass, Taylor Brady, Michael Cross, and Laura Moriarty. I don't think I've forgotten anyone!

Here's a very few excerpts from some of the pieces read:

from "License and Registration: Translation in the Work of Brandon Brown" by David Brazil:

6. Implicit in a 'common-sense' idea of translation is:

7. Is the text in the origin-language (A) properly, adequately, sufficiently brought over into the target-language text (B)?

8. So, yeah, we're always also talking about judgement here, as in, who makes the call?

9. Quis judicabit?

10. (Usually, experts.)

11. You know all this already. The writer does too obviously. He's just interested in other practices.

12. Why? Is he a pervert? Is he just perfidious? (Wearing the mantle of the traitor with pride?)

13. Or is there something particular we can learn about translation, about poetry, about writing, from these other sorts of practices?


16. In several theoretical texts the writer has reiterated that the primary aim of his work is to reintroduce the body and its complex physical, intellectual & social overdeterminations into the practice of translation.
from "Conceptualisms Diary" by Laura Moriarty

May 8, 2009

An email solicitation arrives from Vanessa Place and Laynie Brown to submit to an anthology of conceptual writing by women. I am surprised because I wouldn't have thought of my writing as conceptual. I mention the email to Brent, somewhat perplexed, and he tells me about the new conceptualism. Laynie and Vanessa encourage a response and submission even if one does not consider oneself a conceptual writer. The openness of this invitation recommends the project. I decide that I actually do know what conceptualist writing is but then I wonder if I really do. I wonder also if I am one and if not what I am but, of course, I already know what I am.

This brings me to A Tonalist. At this point, it is a while since I have thought of A Tonalist but now the book will be published by Nightboat and Kazim Ali has asked me to write an afterword. When I first started writing the poem A Tonalist, there was a lot of explaining and I always seemed to explain it differently each time.

A Tonalist refers to work that has existed for a few decades such as my own and that of Norma Cole, along with newer work by Jocelyn Saidenberg, Taylor Brady, Brent Cunningham, Standard Schaefer and others I read and see. I began to write a long essay poem called A Tonalist in 2002 and started an eponymous group blog in 2005. There were somewhat heated exchanges between Flarfists and A Tonalists on the blog. At the time I don't think Kasey Mohammad, Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon or others who think of their work as Flarf exactly identified as conceptualist but I might be wrong.

In writing about A Tonalist I have used the word "lyric but then fellow A Tonalist Brent Cunningham warned me that the word has implications that don't really relate to the sort of anti-lyric-lyric that I am interested in. Eventually I realize he is right. I start using the phrase "highly prosodized syntactic unit" but then I forget to use it, though these units are what I continue to write and to find in work by other A Tonalists.
Jocelyn and I each read a section from her book Negativity and a section from my critical piece on that book. Here's the section Jocelyn chose to read from my piece.

from "Notes On : Holes & Intertextual Alimentary Writing, Jocelyn Saidenberg's Negativity" by Robin Tremblay-McGaw

Language, a system of differences as Saussure describes it, is lovingly and aggressively taken into the body, broken apart, made runny so that reference slides into the gap and everything comes apart and merges. Language is digested and dispersed, taken apart. It becomes in its destruction a variety of generative and waste products, or even, gifts as when a young child offers its waste as a gift and accomplishment to its parents. Maybe the coming apart of language has something to do with the queer subject. In their collaboration Jocelyn and Bob [Gl├╝ck]write: “In that country, in order to lose the self, disintegration is being possessed by another. In this country, in the movie, they tear me limb from limb” (52). In “that country” romance is possession by another; in “this country” there is the violent tearing asunder of queer subjects such as happens to Sebastian in the film version of Tennessee Williams one-act play Suddenly, Last Summer. Each results in an ecstatic loss or standing outside of the self, an erotic and wasteful, Bataillean expenditure. In the film, like the poet Orpheus who is ravaged by a mob of women, Sebastian is torn limb from limb by a crowd of lower class boys, in Sebastian’s case, young boys whose sexual favors he sought. Catherine, played by a young Elizabeth Taylor, wails “it looked as if they had devoured him.” In their violent frenzy, those same boys become cannibals, dismembering and eating Sebastian’s body. In this piece, Jocelyn’s and Bob’s use of the deictic demonstratives “that” and “this” with “country”underscores the contextual nature of the references. "This" and "that" highlight the disparate nature of “country” and the subject(s) making such distinctions, while also blurring and troubling such differences. “This” and “that” overlap. Ultimately, what we put into either end of the alimentary canal is con/fusing. The alimentary in an ethos of being is not without its ambiguities. As is the case with nearly anything, the social or antisocial ends to which it might be put, are never simply one thing or another.

In “Not Enough Poison,” the “I” describes these fragile and mobile tensions between division and unity, assertion and accommodation, incorporation and purgation, the hierarchical and the contiguous:

I can’t assume with sufficient strength this imperative act, the one that excludes you from me, the one that feeds on us, that one. I can’t dam that up or that potential, where it’s filth whether it’s defiling, from the line I traverse or the line we walk the inbetween, mounted between jettisoned and aggregate, vacillating, threatening in silhouette, permeably engulfed, hand in hand.

In Suddenly, Last Summer Sebastian’s mother, Mrs. Violet Venable, played by Katharine Hepburn puts it this way: “all of us trapped by this devouring creation.” Maybe Jocelyn’s proposal includes also all of us creating in this trapped devouring; all of us—we—creatively devouring this trap.
from "Code$witching, Priceless Poetry in the Bay" by Dan Thomas-Glass

Jasper Bernes's Desequencer, out this spring from Suzanne Stein's TAXT press, presents the unknowable as the already-known, exploring the dialectic between the sublime and the mundane. The impossibility of the human genome, both the organizing and disorganizing principle of the poem, is in the chapbook's concise introduction the mid-20th century's dream of an absolutely administered subjectivity, the final gambit of internalized oppression: class codified as "species," class in the genes.

Allie Warren & Suzanne Stein read from "A Poetics" from issue 1 which you can read here.
Because Rob Halpern could not attend the reading, Michael Cross read a section from Rob's piece, "Sensing the Common Place, Taylor Brady's Dialectical Lyric" also from issue one. You can read it here.
You can read the first issue of ON online here. And you can see Alan Bernheimer's photos of the evening here.

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