Nathalie Stephens & Steve Farmer

In the Fall, it is so difficult to keep up! Too much happening and thus, I am slow in noting that I attended Nathalie Stephens and Steve Farmer's reading at 21 Grand last Sunday night in Oakland. This reading series is always well attended.

Natalie Stephens, photo by Alan Bernheimer

Due to some sort of Bay Bridge snafu, we arrived after Nathalie Stephens had already started reading. I heard material from Nathalie's We Press Ourselves Plainly published by Nightboat Books. Nathalie's reading was delivered in an even tone and hearing it, I had the sense that the writing was long,continuous, unbroken. And indeed it is. The book is one long 97 page piece. The text is presented in square blocks that fill each page. On these pages are phrasal and clausal units separated by ellipses.

Here are some samples:

...The people look
down   at   their   gods...   Who made the
monotheism... Wanted...  What wanted...I
sample  the offerings... Rose  coloured  or
drawn...The deities masturbate...I encounter
Chernobyl in the body of a girl....A far-off
place...Fancy wanting that...The split cell...
A devotion....Such strange light... (40-41)


...I undress each one and
make the magnitude of history...It is better
this way and understated...You undress me
first and it goes unnoticed...For centuries the
hermaphrodisms...  Even the fictions are
fictions...Contradictions...I kiss it back...It is
cursory and disavowed...The freedoms are
aroused and then settled... (72)

At the end of the book, a note entitled "I WILL GO THEN..."
comments on the book's form and premise:
Architecturally, the text operates a form of confinement, manifest as a continuous block of text from end to end. If one of the active functions of this work is compression, it is the compression not just of a body in a carefully controlled space, but of all the possible spaces pressed into that body, upon which the pressures of historical violence and its attendant catastrophes come to bear. It is this thing which is accountable that detaches from the text, making its own press into surrounding areas.

Spacially the room is finite. But what enters, through the body of the speaking voice, orients thought away from its confines toward an exacerbated awareness of endlessly forming breaches.This is no threshold: it is a reiterated collision that belies the possibility of situation. Sisyphus, outdone.

You can catch more from Nathalie at Small Press Traffic, Saturday night, September 25, 2010. Nathalie will give a talk entitled " Vigilous, Reel: Desire (a)s accusation" at  7:30pm at:

CCA Graduate Writing Studio
195 deHaro Street
San Francisco, CA

Steve Farmer, photo by Alan Bernheimer

Steve Farmer was up next after the break and the long wait in the line for the bathroom. Steve was in front of me in that line and so we chatted ever so briefly about the liveliness of the 21 Grand Readings. Go 21.

One of the pieces Steve read included "Brazilty," written in response to a request from David Brazil and Sara Larsen for their popular magazine Try! I gladly received a copy of said mag from David that night. This issue of Try! includes work by Cidar Sego, Chris Martin, Margaret Tedesco, Jackqueline Frost, Brian Ang, Andrew Joron, Laura Woltag, and Rodney Koeneke.

Here is Steve's "Brazilty"
protectorated by general dread
pole gusher credit allowed breakage
starred for twelve seasons at one time
airlines and military dressing for boys, at another a brood
approaches separation of hill from cloud, mind from city-cloud
barks trigger the spray bot wordless global
to many under the clod by n ow bypassed tenemental deftly
an elite state police unit Raquel fits in somehow softer
people keep your phones shut, your mouths on
also frequented a constant state of no resolution model
host tree set investigate give up to & fend
the brassiere unhooked pre-Trump, McGarretted
as bathed matterhorn summer forever (bullish
you) whether anti- or proto-designate
remoted the sand, he was slavened
Steve also put some work up on a large screen and invited Yedda Morrison and budding dancer Eve, Yedda's daughter, and Taylor Brady, to help parse the fields of possible language on view.

I was sitting in the back and dazzled by all the toddler activity at the reading, and then, swiftly, back over the bridge.


Poems from Conference of the Birds by Stephen Cope

Stephen Cope

From Conference of the Birds by Stephen Cope

Note: Given the score-like nature of Stephen's work in these pieces and my desire to preserve their formatting, I've experimented with posting on Scribd as a way to achieve that. We'll see how this works. Thanks Stephen for your fine work!

Stephen Cope was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Ohio and California. From 1986-1996, he played guitar and other instruments in numerous bands and performance ensembles, including thelemonade, a roving poetry/ music ensemble that he co-founded with Christopher Funkhouser in 1989. He received his PhD from University of California, San Diego in 2005, after having hosted numerous readings and performances in the San Diego area and receiving numerous research fellowships from the Archive for New Poetry, where he archived the papers of Bernadette Mayer, Lyn Hejinian, John Taggart, and others.His poems, reviews, and articles have been published in XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics, Denver Quarterly, We Magazine, Becoming Poetics, Review of Contemporary Fiction, The Germ, and elsewhere. His edition of George Oppen's "Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers" was > published by the University of California Press in 2007, and his poem "Bellerophonic Sonnet" was chosen for PIP- Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Poetry in 2005. He currently lives in Ithaca, NY, and hosts "Conference of the Birds," a weekly podcast of post-colonial, cross-cultural, and poetic musics from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, the Middle-East and places between and beyond. Cope has recently taught literature, poetry, poetics, and related subjects at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), Ohio University, Bard College, Ithaca College, and (via Bard's Prison Initiatvie) at the Elmira Maximum Security Correctional Facility.

Stephen's current writing in poetry -- a ongoing serial project entitled "Conference of the Birds" is provoked by encounters with (and produced in part as responses to) the cross-cultural materials featured on his podcast.


Rob Halpern on Mark Linenthal Who Died Labor Day Weekend 2010

Mark Linenthal and Frances Jaffer

Having been ill for some time and recently suffering a stroke, Mark Linenthal, poet and retired San Francisco State University teacher, died peacefully at home this past Labor Day Weekend 2010.  Rob Halpern shares an introduction he wrote for Mark a couple of years ago:

Introduction for Mark Linenthal
Reading at Last laugh Café
January 12, 2008
Rob Halpern

Over the years, Mark Linenthal has cultivated a number of identities, all of which find elaboration in his writing: poet, teacher, activist, jazz musician, hunter, WWII navigator, and prisoner of war, among others.

Mark taught English at San Francisco State University from 1954-1992—during which time he married Frances Jaffer, who went on to become a remarkable poet in her own right—and he directed the Poetry Center between 1966-1972. He was also instrumental in organizing the Green Party of California. Mark is a saxophone player, and while he stopped playing in his combo a year or two ago, he continues to find in jazz a set of living metaphors and models for poetry and its sociality. He’s also passionate about hunting, as well as fly fishing, and while it’s hard for me to share the enthusiasm, Mark has written persuasively about hunting as an ecological and ethical practice within a Green political vision. From this practice, Mark derives an equally compelling set of figures for being “in the field” of poetic composition.

From the serial poem, “Hunting” (The Man I am Watching), for example, Mark writes:

In this overgrown field words
falter as they rise

under it
all a steady breathing

And then there’s “Spring Melt,” a poem about both fishing and poetry (from Growing Light):

All winter waters
gushed under the ice

The fish slept
they grew thin

Now as spring comes on
we keep turning away

to those rich rivers
like language

to enter the rivers
to dance fine lies

through the foam
to drift over real fish

They are there
terse serious in the riffles

They flicker naked
at their ease

in the green pools

Mark’s poetry is an eco-poetry of encounter, one that locates itself consequentially in the space between “fine lies”— or the lures of language — and “real fish,” without drawing too much attention to itself.

In a more recent poem called “Out Here,” Mark maps the topology of his poetics like this:

Where words rule
things keep their dry distance
and may not meet without shame or struggle

Out here anything
can happen you hear them
old cypresses

Like the space between “real fish” and the “fine lies” that occasionally catch them, the space between “out here” and “where words rule” opens on a scene of wonder and surprise, where in a moment “anything can happen,” just as the world can come suddenly into stark focus, and a word make tenuous contact with it. Like his good friend George Oppen, Mark courts such moments of contact, always ready to be astonished, and this often yields moments of acute awareness that the world is really here, and that one is in and of it.

Mark delivered the Oppen Memorial Lecture in 1992. It was a great talk that considered Oppen’s “abstemiousness”—as opposed to “abstinence”—his humility and pride, his insistence on an imposing reality, as well as the importance of Oppen’s reading of Heidegger. It was a deeply personal talk—as well as interpretive—on the work of someone who was for Mark “a fundamental poet.” It’s hard for me to situate Mark Linenthal’s poetry without referring directly to Oppen, especially insofar as it is to Oppen’s poetry that my memories of Mark’s friendship and conversation consistently return. And he continues to cite Oppen with remarkable freshness on “the heartlessness of words”—how they always say too little or too much—and how “it’s possible to use words provided one treat them as enemies,” as if these ideas had only just yesterday made their consequential impact on him. “The thing only seems to exist because the word does,” Mark might quote Oppen as saying, insisting on the way language seduces belief that something is there, when in fact there may well be nothing.

But Mark is not an abstemious poet; his writing doesn’t reduce to bare materials. In the space between nothing and something—again, between the fine lies and the real fish—his poems open and expand. Following Stevens—that other “fundamental poet” for Mark—his poems are much less resistant to an affirmation of one’s being simultaneously in the world and in language, despite all the skepticism words inspire. Mark has often averred that Oppen’s and Stevens’s ontological concerns were more or less of the same Heideggerian kind: how do we know there is something rather than nothing? But whereas the space between something and nothing inspired in Oppen a kind of metaphysical vertigo (with real social implications), like Stevens, Mark can suspend his anxiety in that space, observing the “isolation of the sky,” and affirm that “deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail / Whistle about us their spontaneous cries” (from Stevens’s “Sunday Morning”, another poem Mark loves to recite).

Actually, in the space between something and nothing, Mark would probably rather hang-out and tell tasteless jokes, or laugh at limericks. His sense of humor underscores a key difference between his poetic sensibility and that of George Oppen. It’s a difference Mark often refers to while juxtaposing himself to his friend. Mark might point to Oppen’s ontological insecurity, an insecurity that arguably necessitated Oppen’s writing insofar as the poetry was needed to testify to the world’s material being, or “this-ness”. By contrast, Mark will confess to his own grounded stability: “I’m not like George,” he’ll say, “I’m too ontologically secure to write poetry.” And yet, Mark’s two books of poems, Growing Light (Black Thumb Press, 1979, whose title refers to the phenomenon of literally “growing light” when fly fishing, that is, approaching a river depth where the body is lifted and carried by the current) and The Man I am Watching (e.g. Books, 1987), belie the comforts of any such security.
At a time when the idea of experience has come under siege, Mark’s poems score, with uncompromised lucidity, the movement of their own attention making contact with a world where experience is still possible. In this sense, the poems are instructive: they prepare, in language, the presencing of an “experience” that remains outside language. For Mark, small acts of attention become consequential for locating one’s place in a world where “place” goes on eroding. Rather than giving into the force of that erosion and the rule of words, the poems bear witness to the fragility of location where a concern with “what can be said” becomes the most serious of all concerns. “What can be said”—as both direct question and relative statement—conditions the poems’ formal possibility while delimiting their content. It’s in their faithfulness to “what can be said” that Mark’s poems enact the values of clarity and precision, against injudicious obscurity and vague impressionism. But to measure one’s sense of measure—honestly and accurately—by “what can be said” requires a certain lightness of touch, and like Lester Young, after whom he wrote a great poem called “Listening to Lester,” we can hear Mark in his poems, “learning to play so lightly / he could believe it.”

Listening to Lester

I give myself such good

I think of how in the yard branches
rest on air

how Bix and Tram were
telling some stories that I like to hear and

Lester carried that record around —

it was Singing the Blues
learning to play so lightly
he could believe it
how we are so frequently not so

how we are not wrong

that hunger heals

You can hear Mark talking about comedy and telling some of his jokes and limericks here on youtube.