Thursday, July 7, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

I always hoped to grow up to be a drifter



and woe and blue to you if you are 70
when you ain't yet 30 and the light
like egg whites troublin' over clay
and the blue yodeler's lung for wheezy hat
just plain winds your mind to wear the thing



Everything about this book feels like it was written under a neon beer sign with a whiskey nearby in the last hour before the bar closed, as a probably futile alternative to violence or tears. I saw Abe Smith read from it one afternoon, in a ping-pong bar in DC. He slid behind the microphone, nodded at the applause and, without seeming to take a breath, proceeded to rant like a Baptist preacher. When he finished it seemed like he’d read the entire book without having taken a breath. The room broke into the kind of noisy, hooting clapping you hear from a poetry crowd when they all know they’ve just seen IT. I tried to buy the book then and there, but there were no copies left. So I did the cheap snake thing and begged a free one off the publisher, Action Books.

When it came I found that, on the page, it reads a lot like Abe sounds: it hurtles, wailing like, oh, I dunno, a freight train. It’s broken into sections that have roughly the length and feel of your average canto, though the poems are not called that. They’re not called anything, having for titles something along the lines of “#$#$%%%$#$#” or “@!&&&*!@#$.”

Technically speaking, that hurtling-freight-train effect is the result of the way Abe uses line breaks in combination with an utter lack of any kind of punctuation. No periods, no commas, nothing, so you’re left with the line itself and how it’s cut. There will be a handful of lines, all phrasal, usually enough of them to establish a rhythm in a reader’s head, a pattern of comprehension tied to the phrasal breaks. Then the enjambments start. Having gotten accustomed to the phrasal pattern, the enjambed breaks send you practically leaping to the next line, looking for the phrase’s end. Usually you get dragged through half a dozen lines until you finally find it. Then the whole thing happens again.

So there’s the poetry wonk stuff for the spondee fetishists. There remains the question of the book’s content and its implications.

First of all, I hope Abe isn’t cherishing any notions of being a big hit in New York any time soon, cause I can’t see it happening. That, to me, says more about the poetry (sub)culture in that city than it does about the book. There’s too much blood in this book for New York. And one might plausibly conclude that Abe means it, which doesn’t play well out that way either. Also, this book is largely about the South, a region of the country that can hardly be said to fascinate our friends and colleagues in the, repeat it wearily with me now, Greatest City in the World. Abe also doesn’t sound like he’s high on cold medicine when he reads, and they love that in New York.

Too bad for them, cause what’s going on here is really interesting. First of all, this is not a book that is about Hank Williams so much as it’s involved with the life and aesthetics that Hank represents. Through the whole thing I kept thinking it was more like Townes Van Zandt covering Hank than Hank himself, an idea that gets a brief wink toward the end of the book. Hank is more a lens used to look at the South, a sort of guiding spirit who hangs around like an old 8-track in the glove compartment, a reference point that Abe circles back around to, to reconnect the threads he’s following all over the place.

There was a point in this book where I read the expression “gas rag.” Now what that is? It’s a rag, usually very cheap, that is used by people who work on cars to wipe up gas that gets spilled on the engine or elsewhere. That’s all it gets used for. It had been probably 15 years since I’d heard the term “gas rag,” but as soon as I did, there I was, in a garage with my dad, being asked to pass him one, or being told to keep it separate from the other rags, or to put it with the other, older gas rags, in a spot plenty far away from the space heaters. What we’ve got there is a well-observed detail, one that sketches the contours of a rural, poor, Southern culture, the same one that Hank Williams came from and came to represent the way the Virgin Mary represents womanhood to a Catholic.

And that’s the culture Abe is looking at, questioning, teasing, observing, writing down, in the present. And the book is called Hank, I suspect, because it is very difficult to move in this culture for even an hour and not bump into him somewhere, especially in Alabama, Hank’s home state, where Abe spends a fair amount of time. To take this culture and its major symbolic figure as the material for a poem as avant-garde as this is, to me, a pretty big deal. The result is an aesthetically progressive piece of work, as sophisticated as anything I’ve read in the last five years. But by virtue of its subject and themes, Hank is one of the few aesthetically progressive works I’ve read in the last five years that is not essentially about the problems of bourgeois identity. It’s about the poor, and the sub-poor, and talks about us unprogrammatically as though even we could be beautiful, as fucked as we are, as devoted as we shall probably always be, to a skinny pill freak who could sing like hell.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Luxe et Volupte

So, I'm reading this Thursday, April 8. Details are here. As you see, I'm reading with Deborah Morkun, whose got a new book out. A very nice one, in fact, done by BlazeVox, called Projection Machine.

I happen to be presenting some sort of seminar in alternative forms of publishing, as this reading will be the more or less official release of three different weird things.

The first is this chapbook on Ugly Duckling Press, my translation of Manuel Maples Arce's City: Bolshevik Superpoem in 5 Cantos.

This was written in roughly 1923, in Mexico, where Maples was the "leader" of a really interesting avant-garde group called the Stridentists. It's an excellent poem, first and foremost, and also of some tangential interest for its role in the life and work of Roberto BolaƱo.

David Jou, who edited the book, did an excellent job extracting notes and an afterward from me, and those things are in the book, for those interested in such things, such as me.


The second is this non-standard chapbookesque thing, Stereo Daguerreotype, which Ben Winkler published on Splitleaves Press.

The poem is longish, by my own standards, and it's made up of five sonnets alternating with more loose pieces. Ben was like, "Let's do it on postcards and bind it with twine," and that sounded great to me. The cards aren't numbered, so things could get mixed up in there and that would be excellent.

And the third thing is this thing that I think is called an "echap" though its a pretty crude version of it. It's called "Nobody's Birdland, the barely Sahara," and it's a collaboration between myself (I wrote the words), Nadia Berenstein (who took the pictures) and Bela Shayevich (who's the person in the pictures). I stuck the images into a word file and saved the whole thing as a pdf. Not very technological, but it'll work. I put the thing up on Scribd, and you can read or otherwise bother it here.

All these things are pretty short, so I'm going to read them all at Blend on Thursday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Extroversia

One: I'm hosting or curating or editing or WHATEVER a reading series at Mostly Books. The first one is this coming Friday, details are here. And Two:



There is a near definite possibility that this reading will be the release of my new chapbook on Splitleaves Press, Stereo Daguerreotype, and I'll also be reading from this. AND Deborah is a rock star, so like come out and stuff.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hula Hoops Forever


So I am reading this Tuesday at one of my favorite places to read (and no, they're not ALL one of my favorite places to read). The place being the Wine-O bar, where readings are hosted and toasted by the ineffable Abbi Dion. If you've never been there, all I can say is come and bring your champagne shoes.

Specifics:

7:30pm - 10:30pm

Wine-O

447 Poplar Street, Philadelphia
(N 5th and Poplar, bit south of Girard)

Also reading are Hailey Higdon, who you really must see, Stephanie Marum and Mike H. Martin. I'm told the "H" stands for "hurricane." All heavy hitters. Basically this reading is one of those late 80s supergroups where everybody was in another megaband before but now have combined their rock powers so as to rock yet harder.

As for myself, I'm going to read a children's book for ungrownups I wrote last winter called Girlette's Disordered Alphabet. I've been saving it for the right time, and that time is now. Here's three of the poems, gotta come out to hear the other letters.

G

Girlette is not about
to try to explain herself.

Please, we beg, please Girlette,
we just want to get
to know you better!

Absolutely not!
she says,
that's how it starts
and then
next thing you know
there's tabloid journalism
all over everywhere.

So just the facts!

Name: Girlette
Age: 9
Hair/Eyes: Yes, both.

Likes: myself, hula hoops, kitties, dresses, etc.
Dislikes: dolls, tea parties, Boy, Jr.

But Girlette!
we protest,
That's not enough!
We need more!
Girlette! Please!
You don't have to tell us
everything, just, maybe,
how about one thing
for every letter
in the alphabet?

Girlette twists up her mouth,
dubious, thinks it over.

Alright, she says, but listen:
I'm doing you a favor
so nobody better try to
paparazzi me later on.

Deal?

B

Boys are something I
generally oppose,
says Girlette,
and none more so
than Boy, Jr.

He is a BEAST!
He is BORING!
And also very BAD!

He stinks and he has no
manners to speak of
and if he
tries to kiss me again
I think I'll slug him.

I

Insects are not,
I repeat,
NOT proper toys,
Girlette insists,
though apparently
no one told
Boy, Jr.

He is so gross.
I tried to tell him:
Stop playing with bugs
they will not
fight to the death
in that Bell jar
no matter how much
you shake it!

He didn't listen.
He never does.
Do you know what he did do?
He ate a bug!
I mean really ATE it!

Then he chased me around
and tried to kiss me,
so I slugged him.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hungry...so hungry...here's a recipe



Mildred Pierce, a lovely zine edited by John Bylander and former Philadelphian Megan Milks, just posted a brief interview with me as part of their series on starving artists. They also talked to Leeyanne Moore and Sandra Newman, among others. So read those words already.

And, on the topic, here is the recipe for my national dish, Meximess. A big pot of vaguely Mexican food that's delicious, cheap, and lasts for days. I had to invent this in Chicago when I discovered that the only grocery stores in my neighborhood were Mexican ones. It has gradually been perfected over the years.

1. Some kind of meat, such as chorizo or chicken or carne enchilada or cecina. Or no meat, if you prefer.

2. Onion/garlic

3. Cumin and some kind of dried chili peppers, salt and pepper

4. Beans, I like black, you do whatever

5. Rice.

Put the rice on. Obviously in a separate pan, brown the meat then toss in the onions and garlic, then the various spices. Sweat the onions then toss in the beans. When they're hot add the rice and stir like mad.

You can serve this either on small tortillas, like tacos OR in a big tortilla, burrito-style, or even in a bowl with some tortilla chips if you're feeling informal. I always always top mine with fresh pico de gallo, sour cream and Yucateca hot sauce. You have my permission to do whatever you like.

I made this earlier tonight and the total cost was $24. It'll last 3 or four days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Instant Poem Mix, Add Water



A collaborative poem by myself, Ryan Eckes and Kelly Whiskey.

Sweet Calcutta Rain

When I come
I come blood
and glitter and
plasterdirt thru
my hair, which is
made of a baseball
cap I bought at
Q mart,
the sweet dirt mall
offering stolen power tools
and miniature animals.
(Like goats and ponies <3!)
Draining day after
day through the
glory hole, peek-a-boo!
I threw shoes through
your mom's open mic.
She said,
I'ma give you a
buckfifty if you
don't clean your room and
make me a vodka and OJ (aka screwdriver.)
Aka nine-liveser, I
want to fuck the
entire Danish
curling team.
Seriously. Throw
the cat off the balcony
already. You know it
will land on its feet
it's a cat we're on
the 15th floor.
Take the stairs down
to check
cause I'm skurred of
the time we got stuck in
the elevator at Disney World!
Danish girls! You must
whip it! Whip it good!
Last time I was whipped
was in Girl Scout camp.
I'd like a smoothie, please.
THANK YOU!