Saturday, March 29, 2008

Today (yesterday)

One of those great moments on British radio when the facade cracks for a few seconds ...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Etymological thinking

"... the 'Repository' or the 'Laboratory' (or 'Elaboratory') ... "

(Ashmolean museum card)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Consumer Research

Just gone through the Poetry sections of Blackwells and Borders in Oxford and there is NOTHING worth buying. I go on Amazon and order i) the Complete Stories of Arthur C. Clarke,ii) a bumper Cornell volume and iii) the Scroggins 'Zukofsky'.

Then we go to the Science Museum (the old Ashmolean) and look at astrolabes and other scientific stuff. I'm thinking about Joseph Cornell.

Tonight's DVD: Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain. Truffaut meets Proust.

And here's an advert for Crossroads Garage of Kidlington and an anti-advert for Yateley Motors and the Renault garages in the Farnborough-Fleet area. When you want your boot lock repaired go to CROSSROADS!

Friday, March 21, 2008

UK visit

As I write, through the window swirls of snow or is it Cherry Blossom? The strangest changeable weather.


Spend this morning reading The Cambridge Guide to the Solar System and odd pages from Theatre of the Mind (Mary Ann Caws' edition of Cornell's diaries and letters) a book I return to again and again.

This sends me upstairs in search of my copy of Marianne Moore's poems. Here's a lovely one that caught Cornell's eye - one can see why (Faber print the second and third lines of each verse indented):


you've seen a strawberry
that's had a struggle; yet
was, where the fragments met,

a hedgehog or a star-
fish for the multitude
of seeds. What better food

than apple seeds - the fruit
within the fruit - locked in
like counter-curved twin

hazelnuts? Frost that kills
the little rubber-plant -
leaves of kok-sagyyz-stalks, can't

harm the roots; they still grow
in frozen ground. Once where
there was a prickley-pear -

leaf clinging to a barbed wire,
a root shot down to grow
in earth two feet below;

as carrots from mandrakes
or a ram's-horn root some-
times. Victory won't come

to me unless I go
to it; a grape tendril
ties a knot in knots till

knotted thirty times - so
the bound twig that's under-
gone and over-gone, can't stir.

The weak overcomes its
menace, the strong over-
comes itself. What is there

like fortitude! What sap
went through that little thread
to make the cherry red!


Tomorrow morning Belgianwaffle goes on the road with the wife, kids and Macbook. The delights of Easter snow, traffic hold-ups and tasteless coffee in half-pint cups await in England! Whoopee!

Posts are liable to be back to the unreliable 'normal service' of February and before. (Unless we find a Wi-fi hot spot).


bright sunshine and blue skies. 12:25pm. Weird.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Penny Arcadia

(Joseph Cornell 'listening' to a book, c. 1970)

Who has got close? Peter Gizzi in his series 'Locket'; Elisabeth Willis in The Human Abstract; Brian Catling, maybe. Those are the ones who strike a chord with me. Yet there's one more - perhaps the secret key to unlock the boxes - Emily Dickinson. "The thought beneath so slight a film", "soundless dots - on a Disc of Snow - " , "A sphere of simple Green", "An hour in Chrysalis to pass" ... lines like these continue to vibrate.


These are notes transcribed from a couple of summers ago. Writing off, away from, Cornell's boxes themselves and Rosmarie Waldrop's texts. I am fascinated by the boxes (of course) but also the archive Cornell assembled: dossiers, files, shoeboxes. Then there is the mass of scribbled notes, diary entries, sightings, 'extensions'.

The challenge - as I see it - is not so much translate the content. Instead, it is to find an equivalent method. A glass, a marble, a metal ring, a cut out of a parrot from a magazine, a Boys' Own diagram of the solar system, a lock of hair.

Paragraph units seem appropriate. Reading through these notes I see how much depends upon punning association. In fact, I think it might be more appropriate to juxtapose sounds: as Cornell sets dissimilar objects together to make them sound. Juxtaposition and arrangement certainly seem to be the way to go. I'm open for suggestions.



Four sentences. Four lines. Each line is a frame. A frame-up. Four by four by four. The cube route. Go fourth and multiply yourself.


You are in the cross-sights. ⊕ . Perspective puts you in the picture. The eye around which it all circles. Eye-I by now a commonplace. Vanishing point. Everything flees from me.


Naval and navel. Navigation of the waves which ripple constructively and destructively from my being. Circumnavigate mistaken for circumcision. My bull’s eye. Target. ‘Ex’ marks the spot. Unbelievable. Umbilical.


Waves of sound, light, water.


Seismograph boxes. Seemingly fixed and stable, immovable, and yet sensitive to imperceptible tremors (here) but vast tectonic movements (there).


Telescope boxes. Ways of sighting tiny specks of light which are vast burning masses of energy. The ‘now’ of seeing light years away from the source. Orbits, eclipses, returns, constellations. A bus schedule ephemeris. There’ll be another one along shortly. There are no corners in space to come around.


Imagine of the stars came out only once in a hundred years. Who said that? Emerson? Thoreau?


The language of mathematics. Line, curve, demonstration, proof, logic.


The egg and its energies. Latent and developing. And the shell.


All that light exceeding me. Arcadia (Sidney) and Urania. Look away from the sun to see what it illumines.


Box as trap. Imprison the viewer. Take you in. You are one among objects. To assemble resemblance of what?


Scale & purpose? Elgin marbles. Children’s marbles which roll behind the sofa and between the cushions. Globes. Emersonian circles. The transparent eyeball. Harmony of the spheres. “What discord when planets to disorder wander ...” (Troilus and Cressida)


Voice box. Echo box. Loudspeakers. Amplifiers. Radio sets. Crystal sets. Transmitters. Receivers. Wave lengths? Stations? The World Service. Ear as well as the eye Black box. The last minutes of voices in distress. “We’re going down ...”. Air traffic copntrol loses sight. How many voices on board?


Disconcerting intimacies. Lick. Fur. Tickle. Tongue. Breath. Lip. Stroke. Shudder.


The cabinets reflect. Your face looking out. “Your” contains “our”. Photo of Cornell looking at his own reflection (by Hans Namuth 1970). Cabinets of Curiosity. Jekyll & Hyde. “... marked E ... folded paper ...”. Means for self-transformation.


All books are secondhand. In movement in time. A watch seems to stop, then the hand moves.


All books are secondhand. Belong to someone else before & after & during. No such thing as a blank page. “The blank page is not blank”.


Intelligent collaborators. War-time interzones. A message is passed, left, picked up surreptitiously. The Third Man. (those notes? – April-July 05 red nbk) Cocteau’s ‘Orphee’ & radio broadcasts. Orpheus as double agent ‘above’ ground and in the Underworld. Jack Spicer. Poetry as broadcasts. Wallace Berman’s transistors.


When statement contains understatement. One sentence looks for another. Echo. Confirmation. Double vision. Squint. Cross your i’s and dot your t’s. I cross.


How many of these sentences are echoes? After images. Ex-cited? Trailing their birth chords/cords? From whose matrix? Womb threads. The spin doctor. Scratch yourself on the mix. Historical events are always intimtae for someone. Again persepective. Now, then. Retrospect objectifies. First hand accounts. Eye witness.


Recurrent image of the ship voyaging across the waves. Rimes of ancient seamen. Ulysses. Oily seas. Coleridge. Baudelaire. Melville.


Image of high fidelity. The point around which we orbit. Pin & stylus. Dig the groove, man. Time lapse photo of the skies. Immense tracks of the stars circling above our heads. Send your head spinning. His Master’s Voice.


At hand. At arm’s length. As far as I can throw it. One foot. The distance of an inch: between the tip and the first joint of the thumb. Out of sight. Within hearing. Rub your nose in it. On the tip of my tongue. Put my finger on it. Hair’s breadth. Pubic space & public space.


At sea in language. Twefth Night. Salty solutions. Brine. Preserving love with tears. Viola. Olivia. Anagrams and twins. Jumbled letters. Alphabet soup from which our being is made. A-n-d/D-N-A. Conjunctions.


Shipwrecks. Oceanic memories & birth trauma. Boxes cast up on shore. The Piano. Wreckers. Drowning in language. Titanic. Man overboard. Scaling the high Cs.


Footnote to the text equivalent to antique dealer’s provenance. Where is the value of a sentence to be located? On the back of the canvas? An accompanying letter (correspondence)? A photo of Mr X holding the cup with the King of - ? The signature looked genuine. The inscription. Hallmark. Another sign. Where does it end?


Cornell’s dossiers. His archives. His extensions . What is in the box? The box as an attempt to shut the endless proliferation of sense? Pandora’s box in reverse. Once they’re sealed what apocalypse is unleashed? Apo + calyptos. Cut it out. Cut-outs. Time stalled.


There is – sometimes – a logic (unlogic?) that takes over. Dictates each sentence. Working between texts. Corresponding through putting your ear to the page. Photo of Cornell with a book to his ear (Hans Namuth c.1970).


A theoretical experiment (they call it a ‘thought experiment’) in which something occurs between two boxes even though they do not have any direct means of communication. A ‘jump’. The magician’s sleight of hand. How the electron acquires a different charge or ‘spin’.


Suitcase. Travel belongings. Going through customs. Anything to declare? X-ray of a toothbrush, underpants, socks. See through nighties. The 100 per cent genuine leather hide. Border crossing. Passepartout. Passport.


Story of a door. When is a door not a door? When it is a deaf ear. Dr J and Mr H. How to get back in when you’re not yourself. Sending myself a letter.


Overdetermination of names. Or what Freud calls condensation. Annette. Listen: a net. Rosmarie Waldrop. Mary Rose. Her name an interesting telescoping of a sunken ship. Valery on poems and shipwrecks. Wall drop. The barrier comes down.


Fairy stories – Cinderella. If the shoe fits. False translation: glass slipper. Transformation at midnight. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Phallicism of sheathing. Menstruation. Slips. Slippers. Poe’s raven. “Nevermore” versus “ever more” versus “once upon a time” versus “happily ever after”. Mother. The step mother replacement. Substitution. Penny in the slot. The penny drops. Arcade and arcadia. Penelope.


i-m-a-g-i-n-e = e-n-i-g-m-a + I


Within one sentence the impression of a sudden warp. We’ve gone from ‘this’ to ‘this’ but no jump signalled. At what point – exactly – do we shift? Time warps – Dr Who – and those notes?


Cornell’s boxes are deceptively ‘present’. Each object haunted by its original context. Which was? The physical object empties itself. You hear quotation marks around it. At home in eviction.


My earlier thoughts on Cornell’s glasses – in fact in flux – the slow flow of liquid which is glass. Transparent. Eternal – in what sense? They lived happily ever after – and then?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Plus ...

... thoughts on Joseph Cornell.

(It's a good job the Easter holidays begin tomorrow.)

Pipped at the post ...

Synchronicity or what? No sooner do I start sharpening my keyboard in anticipation of an entry on Raworth & Comedy, than I see this link on Ron Silliman’s Blog : . David Caddy is hitting all the right targets so I don’t need to launch a long post. Tonight I’ll aim for brevity and postpone the Hancock-Raworth post until later. By way of thoughts on Caddy's post:

1. The number of Goon Shows which were based upon pastiche, parody and blatant appropriation. Clearly, Milligan used – and assumed – references, allusions, quotations from a shared pool of films, texts and songs. Furthermore, the power of radio at that period to hold an audience. Transferring to British poetry of the 50s and 60s what – who – would be the equivalents?

2. I love the ‘aural space’ of The Goon Shows. As radio shows they succeed to the extent that you do not see. Language and sound create a world operating on parallel logics. A sequence such as this from The Great String Robberies:

Scot No.1:
You see that piece of string on the table?

Yes. What's that space in the middle?

Scot No.1:
That's the piece that's missing.

So! So that's what a piece of missing string looks like, eh? Where's it gone? Ah! [laughs] But wait... can't you see, you, you poor Scottish fool!

Scot No.1:
[Gnashing teeth sounds]

It's all, it's all a practical joke!

Scot No.1:
[Gnashing teeth sounds]

Someone's cut that string in the center, pulled the two pieces in opposite directions, giving the impression that a piece had been removed from the middle.

Scot No.1:
Hairy gringlers, he's right! Och, it's true! If you put these two pieces together, the gap disappears!

Scot No.2:
Aye, but did you notice when you did that, the two outside ends got shorter?

Gad... Gad, Chisolm's right! Now I see what happened. What cunning! [laughs] The criminal's cut a piece off each end, then cut across the middle pulled them apart, making the string look the original length.

Scot No.1:
Oh dear, this makes it a baffling case.

Scot No.2:

Ah yes. Instead of one piece we're looking for two separate ends... It's a good job I can count! [laughs] We must start investigations at once!


3. Tape. What Milligan seems to have grasped – more than any of the BBC comedy writers of the time – was the extraordinary possibilities of recording. It just so happens this month’s Wire magazine runs a review of William Burroughs’ ‘Real English Tea Made Here’ CD. I quote:

“By treating the tape recorder as “an externalized section of the human nervous sytem”, Burroughs was definitely in sync with prevailing attitudes. From the 1950s through to the 1960s and beyond, there was a tendency to treat magnetic tape as an analogue for human consciousness as it existed in time …” (Ken Hollings, p54)

What David Caddy observes about Raworth’s freeing of the constraints of a coherent self find their sonic equivalent in the voice (supposedly the index of presence) made ribbon speeded up, reversed, fast-forwarded, rewound, cut and spliced – the basic material of The Goon Shows. Sound/time becomes plastic, malleable, sculptural. I‘m thinking of Raworth’s early volume `The Relation Ship’ where the space of the page becomes a means to examine time and experience. I’m also thinking of 60s rock experimentation: George Martin with the Beatles and – more radically - Zappa with the Mothers of Invention on albums such as ‘Freak Out’ and ‘Lumpy Gravy’. In addition to the radio, which records was Raworth listening to I wonder? ("pause/ between the dropping/ of the record & the music" - 'The Others', The Relation Ship).

4. ‘Logbook’. So many of the poems in Raworth’s ‘Big Green Day’ seem to incorporate what David Caddy locates in terms of “Imperial illusions” – ‘North Africa Breakdown’ and ‘Who Is Hannibal’s Descendant Leading His Elephants Against The Tanks?’ to mention just two titles. However, the work which prompted me to first think of Goon Show echoes is ‘Logbook’ (1970). Listen to this:

“At night in the forest we slept, listening to the creak of our future oars. “Let us”, said one of the natives whose language we could speak, but imperfectly, “build from these trees a thing we call a ‘ship’ – from the wood remaining I will show you how to make ‘paper’ – on this ‘paper’ (once we set sail) I shall show you how to ‘write’ (with a charred twig from the same tree) – and if your grandmother is with you, here’s how we suck eggs.” From the shore we watched the ‘ship’ approach us. We set sail in a small craft to meet the strangers, pausing only to write pages 106, 291, 298, 301, 345, 356, 399, 444 & 453 of the logbook, charring … “

as if read by Neddy Seagoon, imagining next the discovery of Grytpype Thynne and Moriarity as stowaways with Bluebottle approaching in a paper ship made out of an old copy of the Daily Mail.

5. “We never analysed it. I suppose it was an oral cartoon.I read once there were shades of Kafka, Ionesco and Dylan Thomas in it. Really it was just three blokes having a laugh, coupled with Spike’s inventive genius.” (Harry Secombe interviewed 1972).

“Basically I make things I like to look at, and I write things I like to read. There’s not much room outside that.” (Raworth interviewed by Ben Watson 2001).

Having made such identifications I immediately want to correct any impression of having ‘explained away’ Raworth’s poetry. One of the great charms of his work – for me, at least – is the way the poems remain defiantly on the page resisting translation into another discourse.

“too far. look back. you’ve missed the point”

(‘Love Poem’, from The Big Green Day - and the inability of my Blog formatting to cope with the original spacing of this line proves the point)

6. Um ... so much for "brevity".

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Truly. Madly. Deeply.

There are films you watch and there are films you inhabit. And this was one of them.

That Anthony Minghella should have died after a "routine operation" seems a cruel irony given the plot of this film.

Clifton ... Bristol ... the early 1990s ... so many ghosts ...


Dear Walrus

A strange day at the chalk face in that the Server is down, e-mail stalled and students are occupied with exam presentations. So there’s a little space in which to breathe …

1. To read or write … yes, of course, it’s a false opposition. And yes, Deleuze gets it right (as so much – ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and ‘Thousand Plateaus’ were crucial texts for me in my twenties and I’m currently a big fan of his book on Nietzsche). I suppose it’s why I’m drawn to Duncan who so obviously incorporates reading into writing and – from my brief acquaintance with Duplessis – what I sense is going on in ‘Drafts’. To steal and adapt Beckett’s phrase: I’m after a form to accommodate the mesh (ie. the reading-writing-life weave). That said, I have things to shape and there are only so many hours in the day. And I am the Great Prevaricator (as if you haven’t guessed). Bernadette Mayer’s attitude was to make the choice. And there are the books to prove it. My experience is frequently that of walking up the ‘down’ escalator.
2. Whitman – yes. I’d dig further back to Emerson whose Essays I like enormously (and, I think, were very influential on Nietzsche). Susan Howe’s book on Emily Dickinson opens up lots of possibilities in terms of a Puritan tradition (Jonathan Edwards’ sermons, etc) and Bernadette Mayer has interesting things to say about Hawthorne and his influence upon American writing. I’ve yet to get into Hawthorne but Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ has become a key text – see entries earlier in this Blog. I read the Whale as the Poem – well, you can work out the rest.
3. A mood of intellectual exile – that’s a fine phrase! And pretty bloody accurate. Obviously being in Belgium contributes to the feeling (dominant languages being French and Flemish, few English-language bookshops ((none of real quality)), even fewer like minded souls etc. – but let’s not get too Wertheresque). It’s also something about being in your mid-forties – any kind of passion above and beyond your career + mortgage + family looks increasingly suspect (“you mean you still have time for all that stuff?”). And I am happy to admit that just a few hours in England can make me yearn to be back across the Channel. So where does that leave me?

So, I’m very happy to maintain this correspondence – a Deleuzean ‘rhizome’ of sorts –and I’m really pleased that you find “lines of flight” leading off. I find the same in certain other Blogs – Kate Greenstreet’s ‘eod’ (now closed down) was a real inspiration: I loved the way she incorporated images and now and again gave a glimpse into her notebooks.

That’s about it for now.

In the next instalment: Tony Hancock, Tom Raworth and Modern British Poetry …

Deterritorialized yours

The Carpenter

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thank You


A timely reminder ...

“Caution in writing and teaching. Whoever has once begun to write and felt the passion of writing in himself, learns from almost everything he does or experiences only what is communicable for a writer. He no longer thinks of himself but rather of the writer and his public. He wants insight, but not for his own use. Whoever is a teacher is usually incapable of doing anything of his own for his own good. He always thinks of the good of his pupils, and all new knowledge gladdens him only to the extent that he can teach it. Ultimately he regards himself as a throughfare of learning, and in general as a tool, so that he has lost seriousness about himself.”
(Nietzsche, ‘Human, All Too Human’)


How silly of me ...

Where I understood One there were Two. Suddenly it all makes sense!

I am extremely grateful for your posts – they give me renewed energy and enthusiasm to continue blogging.

The image of David Hemmings in ‘Blow Up’ comes back to me: throwing the imaginary ball in the uncertainty of someone picking it up and the game continuing.


black ‘W’
obvious patch

the species


(the nest is well hidden
and made of small sticks

lined with
leaves ...

the letter


Enough for tonight.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Third Letter

Dear Walrus Whoever You Are You Are

A few thoughts this Sunday afternoon.


Taking T.S. Eliot first. Again, for me, it’s hard to separate the poetry from the context in which I first encountered it – i.e. the classroom and lecture hall. The reverential tones with which the texts were discussed precluded any real discussion or personal engagement. Little was made of the manuscript workings and Pound’s surgical interventions – things which, now, fascinate me and maybe even eclipse the poem! Subsequently, I’ve tended to steer clear of Eliot other than on the occasions when I’m called upon to teach him – usually ‘The Waste Land’ in a few hurried periods – and I’m aware that there’s plenty there that I’ve missed.

I remember reading a lecture by Berrigan where he speaks respectfully of ‘The Waste Land’ – I think arguing that so much of what came later was already figured there. There it is – not so much the text as the mind with which you approach it. And perhaps that is part of the US/UK issue. The US poets approaching Eliot pragmatically, trying to locate what was worth taking away, or what energy it possessed, as against the British establishment mummifying it, turning into literary heritage, trying to numb it. Surely one of the reasons Eliot – and Joyce for that matter – is so popular in the Academy is the way he encourages doctoral-style research: allusion hunting, text sourcing, etc. Wasn’t that W.C. Williams’ complaint against Eliot – that he’d sent poetry back into the library?

This then leads on to explaining why Duncan can exert such a fascination where Eliot does not (or hasn’t for me). Duncan, too, is digging into the Tradition – Grail legends, troubadour poetry, Dante, Blake ... – yet somehow it doesn’t feel like a museum collection. I’ll bring in Zappa who, for me, is always a good touchstone and his Project/Object and Conceptual Continuity. Zappa never presents it as a polished system but opens it up to the bittiness of things and life.* I suppose you could connect this to a ‘Junk’ aesthetic which (given my sketchy knowledge) was shared by people such as George Herms and Jess on the West Coast. A poem by Duncan is as likely to juxtapose the death of his cat or a new crop of fruit in the garden with some cosmic theory or citation from a Great Author. The work remains ‘open’ – on the page, to the energies working within its confines and out to the movements of the volume itself, life, the universe, whatever.

Eliot, by contrast, seems intent on the polished oeuvre, the masterpiece, the Grecian Urn. And, for my money, the poetry suffers accordingly. **

I would have said the same about Pound but now sense the Cantos are much more a work in process, much less omni-competent (but did Pound know this?) than first appeared – and thus of greater interest for what I’m after. And Ron Silliman’s recent entries on Rachael Blau Duplessis’ ‘Drafts’ have alerted me to her work.


Faber & Faber. Yes, there’s a whole conspiracy theory you could develop here. I think it’s again connected to teaching. The kinds of poets Faber published – say, Hughes and Heaney – wrote the kinds of anthology piece you could market to schools (‘Dragon’s Teeth’ was one I recall) and shape a generation’s taste. However, Alvarez’s ‘The New Poetry’ with Penguin was also a key volume – as much for who it included as who it left out.

It’s the type of writing that was decisive – I won’t repeat the sketch of my previous letter. To take it further, I think it’s a way of seeing the poem as anecdotal, of a time ‘now’ in which a memory or scene is being recollected. It had to have ‘feelings’ – but nicely tempered by linguistic devices. Irony would also be helpful – to counteract any accusations of sentiment, vulgarity and poor taste. And, very clearly, a large debt was owed to a Wordsworthian model. The language of the poem – for all the talk of poetic artifice – was still in the service of paraphrasable meaning. A short story to all intents and purposes. The locations of poet and reader were clearly maintained. And there are all sorts of socio-political extensions from this.

What a reader brought up on this kind of diet could not fathom would be the sort of writing where words were ‘simply’ words on the page and the complex energies they contain.

To give three very quick examples that occur to me:

Canto I where Pound writes “I mean, that is Andreas Divus, /In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.”

W.C. Williams’ ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’

Oppen’s embedding of (and changes to) the Henry James quotation in the first poem of Discrete Series.

In the Pound example, it is not so much the wild goose chase to track down the volume and compare translations. Rather, to see “Andreas Divus, /In officina Wecheli, 1538,” – the printed words (and date) for what they are, what they embody, their actual printed existence. (Perhaps a comparison can be made with David Jones’ idea of ‘anathemata’). To have noticed, to have selected, to have repeated and placed these words. That is ‘the meaning’ (a term which itself has to be re-thought).

In the Williams example, a way of looking at the poem as an attempt to confront the reader with actual words on the page (and not, as it is often read, as a way to summon up a visual scene in the mind). The refusal of the poem to relinquish its printed and composed state. That is the ‘meaning’.

In the Oppen case, a tension felt between the source text and the citation’s current position. We cannot (or do knowing it’s a bad old habit) read ‘through’ to the James text. Our eyes are glued on the words here on the page, of meanings being suggested to do with transitions of prose to poetry, of meanings internal to the mechanism of the poem.

I’ll throw in another example – Zukofsky’s Poem beginning “The” especially the prefatory remarks and ‘references’.


Another angle of approach – the possibility of creating ‘communities’. Maybe the US – the Land of Plenty – was more conducive to opting out, getting by on part-time work which allowed time for writing, low rents and tolerant tenancy laws. I’m thinking of the groups that emerged in the late 50s in New York and carried through into the 80s. (I saw a recent interview with Ted Greenwald in which he argued high rents have killed the New York ‘scene’). There’s the group around Duncan and Spicer. In the UK there seems to have been a happy time in the 60s allowing poets like Raworth and Harwood to juggle the life:writing equation. I’m wondering where in the UK it would be possible to do the same in 2008? Rents, taxes, unemployment benefits, health charges, food prices – it would be near suicidal! Maybe Sean Bonney has managed it.


Experimental US & British poetry and Comedy. I’ll just leave this as a tantalizing sentence for now (the kids will return any minute). However, I reckon this is a fruitful avenue of research ...

Yours as rain hammers on the Velux

The Carpenter

* a lot of my ideas on Zappa derive from discussions and correspondence in the 1990s with Ben Watson (aka ‘Out to Lunch’, Professor of ‘Poodle Play’ and J.H. Prynne disciple).

** Manny Farber’s ‘White Elelphant Art vs Termite Art’ essay is useful here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Grand Slam!

What else to blog about tonight?

Whatever half or quarter or sixth or eighth of myself feels proud.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Second Letter

Dear Walrus

I’m getting used to this new keyboard which seems also to dictate a new rhythm and style of thinking.

The days are still too disrupted to give any considered thought to your e-mail but here are a few thoughts in lieu …

1. Where I’m coming from … to be honest the January silence was a period of reconsideration: what was this Blog for? Why blog? Who was – might – be reading it ‘out there’. It coincided with – on the one hand – listening to Bernadette Mayer describing how she made a choice given her domestic life: to read or write? I turned this question on myself: to write (ie creative work or the daily blogging/critical work?). Quite simply I don’t have time for both. A sentence which leapt out at me in the Duncan piece was:

“Yes, I was running away from work, from the only real work to do.”

You speak of a thesis – implying a joint project – and I’m wondering what I’m doing veering back into critical discourse.

On the other hand, a nagging sense of footling around. I read Ron Silliman, other bloggers who seem to be launching 3,000 word entries a day. How could I presume to issue thoughts on any subject given my dispersed reading habits, erratic jumps of idea, periods of inactivity due to the day-to-day demands of teaching & other stuff? Would it be better to just shut up shop and confine my ideas to Moleskine notebooks?

2. “Writing poetry criticism during the late sixties was to associate oneself with an academic world, and a tone of voice, which was considered inimical to the life of poetry itself. It was more important to look out of the window, to feel the light coming in, or the way the whole world seemed to collapse around you and rearrange itself as you stepped off the curb, than to think about poetry in a way that might improve other people’s lives. There was the poetry of being alive and there was the poetry on the page. The word “poet” was often used generically to describe the way you lived your life, whether you wrote anything or not.”
Lewis Warsh, ‘Introduction’, The Angel Hair Anthology.

I like this.
I like the phrase “the way the whole world seemed to collapse around you and rearrange itself as you stepped off the curb” – its fusion of urban walking and limit-breaking.
I like “there was the poetry of being alive and there was the poetry on the page”. Surely this relates to what you’re trying to locate in terms of the US/UK divide? That poetry is not simply what ends up between the covers. Rather, it implies an entire politics of living. Thus, the community around Duncan and Spicer; the New York generations of poets; what – I assume – has been generated within Cambridge, or the London-Brighton-Wales nexus of the 60s? Those poets who lived what they wrote as against those who separated the life from the writing?

What pact did Raworth make? “intelligence/ shall not replace intuition”.

3. Standing by your words.

Why I began the Blog was an attempt to break out of a timidity brought on by years of academic/ teaching-related preciosity. Having conducted a correspondence with Lisa Jarnot I realized that ‘Poetry’ – in the broader sense – was a matter of ‘going public’. Again: risk, vulnerability, putting it ‘out there’. You’ll have seen my rather gauche playing around with who-is-Belgianwaffle-really in early posts which also owes something to my compromised position as a teacher in a school. There are things one can/cannot say. In turn, I pose the question why you – U.P., Walrus, whatever nom de plume you wish to assume – “prefer not” and elect for Bartlebian anonymity. That way leads to the Dead Letter Office – unless you can convince me otherwise?

(The Harry Lime theme plays, the cat crawls over the shiny shoes, a light falls upon the face, an eyebrow raised … )

I’m asking myself is this a tease or a professional hedge?

In other words - where are you coming from?

Yours sincerely

The Carpenter

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Baby

Height: 1.08 inches

Weight: 5.0 pounds

Arrived this afternoon and has already made its first words.

I will put it to sleep soon.


I've had a headache since midday. The impending Oral exams and attendant admin. fuzz the brain.


Got two volumes of Rachael Blau Duplessis' Drafts project in the post plus Joni Mitchell's 'For the Roses'.


Dear Walrus: thanks for the reply. You'll gather I'm not really in the best frame of mind to make any intelligent response this evening. However, there's plenty more to say. D'you know the 'Gnostic Contagion' volume about Duncan and the strange illnesses that spread amongst the students who heard him lecture? Something in the voice and/or the intensity of his ideas.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


"Along with some passages from Boehme's Incarnation of Christ which I copied out, I'm sending a new piece of my own, written after a dream - "The Carpenter" had some references to Christ and that is the first appearance of him in my dreams, I think. (I've many times had appearances of Satan or of Demeter and of God the Father ...)"

The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, Letter 141, September 1959, p210.


This, in turn, led me to 'Roots and Branches' (1964) and the text you, Walrus, are after (poem, text, letter - the categories dissolve).

"I want to tell you why I ran away, hiding everywhere when you came after me. I knew you needed help in your carpentering and that you were good, but you were inexorable ... " ('A Letter', pp 16-21)


This volume has stood - until now - unopened on my shelf. It is stunning.

I am very grateful for you having drawn my attention to it.

Dear Walrus

"Maybe this is what is being constructed: a kind of ‘out building’. Not part of the main house but attached in some ways. It has windows through which the passerby can peer. Something’s going on in there but no one is quite sure what."

(Belgianwaffle, 19 May 2006)


So, I am the Carpenter? Then 'you' - Youpi - must be the Walrus.

OK. I’m happy to enter the looking glass or play in a hall of mirrors. The idea of the Blog from the outset was to set off some kind of correspondence – and a Walrus is as good a correspondent as anyone else. So let’s go …


Dear Walrus

Today, Tuesday 11th March 2008, I’m prepared to go on record as saying I think a major contributing factor to the US/UK poetry ‘split’ is down to teaching (good, poor, outstanding, misguided), full stop.

My own experiences of being taught poetry (by fabulous English teachers, don’t get me wrong) was largely under the shadow of I.A. Richards and the legendary ‘Practical Criticism’ paper. A poem became an exercise in mental agility. You had an hour in which to ‘process’ the poem through a series of machines – alliteration, metaphor, etc. Success reflected the extent to which the poem had been reduced to certain predictable features. The poem became a vehicle for cleverness. Crack it, solve it, explain it away. Next?

I think many English teachers are afraid of poetry (not just their students). I have had some colleagues who don't read it, prefer not to teach it, and others who believe it cannot be taught. If they do teach poetry, the poem tends to be diluted into prose (paraphrasable meaning, rhyme and rhythm as obligatory – but annoying – aspects to be discussed). Novels and plays are much more available to the kinds of analysis – and thus assignments – upon which 'good' teachers rely.

In a broader context – and moving to university level – poetry comes under the sway of the Academy. The teacher-professor is the Authority, thinks of his/her career trajectory, valuing letters after the name more than, perhaps, in the text. Professor X becomes the ‘authority’ on Blake, on Wordsworth, on Yeats. This, translated, can often mean they have staked their career (plus mortgage, plus kids’ school fees, plus down payment on the holiday villa) on this corner – and will defend it with their teeth. Papers are issued as much in the spirit of ‘disinterested’ research as as assertion of intellectual property rights. “Hands off – he’s mine!” Henry James anticipated this in several of his short stories.

I think I'm right in saying that Robert Duncan never got a degree. That Berrigan asserted that he was the "master of no art". And I remember an e-mail by Peter Riley ridiculing poetry competitions and their judges - who has the audacity to sit in judgment?

Lisa Jarnot describes classes with Robert Creeley: apparently he'd come in and read a poem and then pause and say something like "that was great wasn't it" and left it at that. (Obviously that relies on a pretty conducive atmosphere!).

Getting back to typical UK school teaching of poetry, there tends to be a very reduced sense of what poetry is. Ideally, for class purposes, it has to be of around twenty lines, possess a clearly separable 'argument' or narrative, some distinctive features and avoid any unpalatable language or issues. The sort of poem produced by - say - Duncan or Jack Spicer (the poem in series) is necessarily 'off limits'. Students form their taste based upon discrete poetic entities, usually 'well-crafted' (an unexamined concept), and displaying over-rich sounds (onomatopoeia being a favourite). Imagine a wine expert drinking nothing but thimbles of sweet port. O, for a draught of Chablis!

I'm more and more of the opinion that poetry makes you vulnerable. Not in the sentimental sense of liable to burst into tears. Rather, that you are confronted by something that challenges your assumptions, values, prejudices and habits of thoughts to the core. Start to talk about it (let alone write it) and yawning spaces open up. Each word is a chasm, the (w)hole you fall into. For me, Blanchot is absolutely right - the encounter with language enacts some fundamental encounter with the Other. (And why, in a sense, writing 'out' to an undisclosed walrus is perfectly apt). Certainly such un-certainty runs counter to what academia depends upon. How could one justify a Chair of Unknowing, a Faculty of the Dispossessed?

We're back to that great venomous phrase of Spicer's: the English Department of the Soul.

More and more I see parallels between the Church's suspicion and suppression of Gnosticism and Academia's relationship with Poetry. To simplify: the direct experience of the knowable-unknowable. Therefore, I think it runs deeper than simply a transatlantic poetic divide. Why, for instance, did Iain Sinclair, Lee Harwood, John James, Bill Griffiths, Tom Raworth not appear on any syllabus - or the shelves of Blackwells (at least as far as I can recall)? Yes, the mysterious J.H. Prynne was muttered about but then who had a copy?

That's enough hammering for today.

Yours faithfully,

The Carpenter

Monday, March 10, 2008

Distant voices

"Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you."

(The first telephone call, March 10, 1876)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Open invitation

"as the letters by which we spell words compel
magic refinements"

(from 'A Poem Slow Beginning', Robert Duncan, The Opening of the Field)

look also at 'Spelling, Passages 15' in Bending The Bow.


There's a moment in one of Zappa's concerts when he addresses the audience:

"I don't know who you are - but I know you're out there"

which is rather how I feel. So, I invite "U.P.:up" to come out of the shadows and maybe we can start up a proper conversation? Don't be shy ...

(That this Blog has one reader is one more than I was beginning to assume back in January).

Friday, March 07, 2008

iBook update

The iBook is currently in intensive care. Will it pull through?

One good thing: I've been given a refund on the power cord I bought last week. I think that's very decent of Taco Systems, Waterloo.

(I think that counts as the first advertisement carried by this Blog.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

iBook RIP?

Looks like I might have a dead iBook on my hands.

That's what comes of trying to tweak a 2002 model with an Airport Express Card.

Stage one: iBook won't start up with Airport Card installed.
Stage two: iBook starts up when Card is removed.
Stage three: iBook won't start up with or without the Card.

I suppose I should have known better.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

In the Eye of the Beholder

Once upon a time, I played Dungeons & Dragons. Hours were spent (wasted?) hunched over graph paper maps and filing cards devising dungeons. Certainly, my 'O' levels suffered. However, I remember with fondness the early conventions at Chelsea and Fulham Town Halls, chatting with Steve Jackson and Dave Livingstone before Games Workshop went commercial, long afternoons with friends until the unconscious symbolism of disappearing down tunnels in search of treasure dawned on my acne-ridden 15-year-old mind.

This book - Greyhawk - haunted my imagination and the cover in particular. The creature is a Beholder if my memory serves me right. It's not ridiculous, perhaps, to see some anticipation of my fascination with poetry - labyrinthine quests and spelling (see Robert Duncan for the double sense). And the wonderful world of elusive publications: Lee Gold's 'Alarums and Excursions' coming out of California, crudely photocopied, side stapled, full of typos; Hartley Patterson's 'News From Bree'.

Ironic, too, that my first students were far more impressed to hear that I was the creator of the Volt (a nasty little electrical beast with horns and prehensile tail) than any academic claims to fame. A salutary lesson in perspective.

So, yes, today I'm sad to hear that Gary Gygax has died - the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. That name had a magic for me - the double 'g' the 'y' and 'x' - well, it was like a Word of Power in itself.

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...