It has been a sorrowful week for poetry, but I am determined that in this introduction to Peter Gizzi, who has known in recent times his share of sorrow, I shall not let elegy overshadow encomium. For what he shows us, and what poets know, is that writing is one of the most effective grief management technologies we have. In an interview with Leonard Schwartz, Peter spoke of his love of listening to poets read their work, which becomes, in his term, a kind of “lived social fabric” or dimensional space to inhabit –a kind of occupier’s tent, maybe – protective, but also exploratory, a staking out of new territory. At the same time, language, he says, comes from “that which is gone – it is aware of both the living and the gone,” and it is language’s “incredible job” to encompass both “grief and joy, the living and the dead.” He speaks of art practice or poetic practice as a kind of “salvage” (as distinct from the totalizing notion of “salvation”) – picking up the pieces and, rather than simply reassembling them, transforming them into something new and galvanizing.
Poets, then, are transformers. I am thinking of electricity (and by extension, Spicer’s poet as radio) rather than toy monsters (although, come to think of it, both analogies work). Writing and reading, Peter says, “light up the system,” and our nervous systems, he says, are what constitute a poet’s style. His own style pays tribute to the authors whom he feels “authored” him – notably Spicer and Oppen – and carries the torch for lyricism and the aesthetic of American modernism.
Wikipedia’s definition of an electric transformer grants us an instantly recognizable metaphorical overlay (almost an exact paraphrase of Olson’s “energy transferred from where the poet got it”) onto the figure of the lyric being:
A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors—the transformer's coils.
Peter is a virtuoso at “inductive coupling, “ creating in the coils of his poems startling weaves of discourses and moody, subtle perceptions and receptions. His books include The Outernationale, Some Values of Landscape and Weather, Artificial Heart, and, most recently, Threshhold Songs, which received just this very week a nearly two-page review in the New Yorker! The caption to the drawing that accompanies the article reads, “Gizzi is a lunch-pail mystic, at once ecstatic and mundane,” but I’d prefer to characterize him as the lyric soul singer of the Rust Belt.
Listeners, please welcome… Peter Gizzi…
2/18 Anne Tardos
It is so very right that Anne Tardos is reading here at Segue today. I’ve spent a lot of time with her wonderful new book, Both Poems, and I can’t help but notice how this space, and this community, have helped to serve as a hothouse for her writing. Segue even comes up explicitly:
“Segue Zen coffee house Segue haunted lightning Segue offerings.”
So do names – Mitch Highfill, Bob Perelman, Adeena Karasick, among many others… and this serves to situate her work in a network of human connections. At the risk of sounding like Creeley, or like a Martian, I’d venture to say that Anne’s writing is marked by how very human it is. It’s about love and confusion and what are we doing here and other puzzlements.
One of the poems in Both Poems, Nine, is composed according to the following principle: “Nine words per line and nine lines per stanza.” Conveniently, that is also the first word of the poem.
I have written the rest of this introduction under that same compositional directive. Here goes:
Anne Tardos’ poetry has everything I want from poems.
It’s formally inventive but not a slave to “inventiveness.”
It’s philosophical – without irritable-certainty-reaching – but playful, too.
Her meticulous sense of timing, as in koans.
I feel myself suffering, laughing, pondering, exulting with her.
Macaronic metrics and amiable speechlike measures amuse and welcome.
Dark humor, whimsy, sometimes tousled syntax – serious, and not.
Autobiography, community, love, mortality – all this in its sweep.
I love love love Anne’s poetry. Please welcome her!
2/25 Corinne Fitzpatrick
Corrine Fitzpatrick’s poetry is serious, delicate, and spare. It gives a sense of care and also of tentativeness.
Rodney Koeneke writes, of Corrine’s chapbook, “On Melody Dispatch,”
“Fitzpatrick [has a] sure feel for internal rhyme, assonance, and sharp alliterative thrusts that turn the readers’ ear to relatively short but dense verbal units. The writing displays a close-knit, tightly embroidered formal panache that reminded me of the work a boxer does up close in a clinch with opponents. Melody undefeated.”
Twin urges of description and listing seem to function as engines. I notice:
a catalogue of similes
lists of testimonials, time expressions, instances of waiting, physical disturbances
She describes a painting. This in itself seems a painterly gesture.
She describes a political uprising, using “the people” in each line, without commentary. Commentary isn’t necessary. It builds to its own crescendo.
Please welcome, for the first time to Segue, Corinne Fitzpatrick.
3/3 Ariel Goldberg
Here we are. Bipedalian, large-headed, upright…sinuous and lipid, filled with all manner of bio-liquids and viscosities … each square inch of flesh covered with more than 1000 nerve endings… all utterly strange. TONGUES also are very strange, but strangest of all, I think, are EYES - these little jelly balls, these headlights of our faces, the windows of our souls. That such devices should have evolved – with their little rods and cones and beautiful variegated irises –underscores a truth: we are creatures of light. More than any other sense, vision informs us that we are not alone, but in ceaseless dances of negotiation with others and with objects. That we have developed technologies that record patterns of light is even more astounding. Rolling about as we do in a constant bath of images, though, we scarcely even think twice about it, although the extent to which photography has bent, is bending, our world is something that we are only just beginning to investigate - Benjamin, Barthes, Sontag, and their spawn having only just scratched the surface.
Enter poet-as-cultural anthropologist Ariel Goldberg, obsessed with the photographic revolution and its meteoric impact. But before I write another sentence I need to say something about pronouns. In Ariel’s original Segue bio, “they” replaced “she” as pronoun of preference, while retaining the second person verb. Of course, “they” got edited out somewhere along the chain. It made someone too uncomfortable. Not me, someone else. So now I will continue the introduction as I believe Ariel would want it. Their works explore the language of photography from myriad angles – the hobbyist, the pro, the fetishist, the tourist, and so many others. I experience the multivocality as operatic. This operaticity, indeed, begs for the use of the plural, nongendered pronoun.
Ariel and I both work as ESL teachers at Pratt Institute. It is the sort of profession in which one’s own language is constantly happily being made strange for one – a poet’s dream. Yesterday, we took our students to see the Cindy Sherman show at MoMA. I commented to Ariel that so many of the people around us looked as if they could be Cindy Sherman subjects; they responded that “everyone is Cindy” – I might modify that to read “everyone is Ariel.”
Here’s what I know about them. They is a museum junkie, and they is always making art.They is a photographer and performance artist as well as a maker of artist’s books. They loves photography – real analog photography- in that fervent way that makes them express disappointment that Cindy has recently switched to using digital manipulation. They does museum guide/talks about photography. They does performances in which they pass out writings to be read and then take them back, and then they gives away photos. They is writing an epistolary novel around encounters with photography. They created a talk show, in the Bay Area, with Charity Coleman. The mission of the talk show, called Write This Down TV was to critique the form of the poetry reading. The shows are transcribed. You can find the transcripts online, and they are really great. Here is a little excerpt:
AG: The thing with not using the mic is really obnoxious because I feel like people are trying not to have an ego, to be more modest.
CC: It’s like cheap rebellion.
AG: It is cheap rebellion.
CC: I’m not buying into it. And guess what? Not everyone can hear everything if they’re in the back of a room that has bad acoustics. You’re giving a reading, use the mic! Just own up to what you’re doing and don’t feel like you have to apologize for being a poet.
AG: I always want a mic. When I read, you know what people’s response is? “That’s intense! You’re so serious”. And I’m like well, what else is the point?
Indeed, what else is the point? So, dear audience, ready your cameras, and say cheeeeese.
Here comes Ariel Goldberg.
3/10 Tracey McTague
Edgar Allen Poe famously wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” Indeed, stare for too long at any gorgeous flower and one begins to be stunned by its essential grotesquerie, which then in some mysterious way doubles back to make the blossom more beautiful still. I think of how Huysmans recognized this dynamic in his catalog of weird flowers in A Rebours. He described, for example,
the Cypripedium, with its involved, incoherent, incongruous contours that seem the invention of a madman. It was shaped like a wooden shoe, or a little rag-bag, above which was a human tongue retracted, with the tendon drawn tight, as you may see it represented in the plates of medical works treating of diseases of the throat and mouth…
Similarly, Tracey Mc Tague’s poems tinker with the proportion of beauty to strangeness, finding just the right balance, as a Thai chef might with sweetness, acidity, salt, and spiciness.
It just so happens that Tracey has one of the most beautiful gardens in Brooklyn, so she has likely looked closely at a lot of flowers and been seduced by them. I’m not sure whether she has transferred the skill set of gardening into poetry or vice versa, or whether the dynamic is simply more complementary, but the poems are like enchanted terrariums, tiny organic assemblages in the “syntax of [an] unknown tongue.”
The lines are short, rarely more than five words each, and this economy helps us not to lose such exquisite, sound-attentive moments as “prank mask feasts,” “double bloom Twombly,’ “porch minks,” and “faux pas paw prints.” I almost want to call these “euphoria infested” poems gemlike, with their strange and unembarrassed (i.e. uncontested) beauty, but perhaps it is more accurate to compare them to amber. With her fine and surreal sense of juxtaposition and arrangement, Tracey is sure to work in insects and delicate mischief among the loveliness: there is a “nymph detainment center”, a “chocolate mingle turn-ons at herpes camp” and even a “Cartesian spider monkey [that] yells,
‘Titans – show us your tits’”!
To which one can only respond:
Tracey! Show us your poems!
Please welcome Tracey McTague to Segue.
3/17 K. Silem Mohammad & Rick Wiggins
Despite Flarf’s brilliant fluorescence flickering maniacally over the landscape of contemporary poetry, there are still and perhaps always will be those who regard humor in poetry as a kind of degradation of the art, saying that they are “deeply suspicious” of it, or that they do not “go to poetry readings to laugh.” I’d like to entreat such endorsers of modulation and gravitas to consider for a moment just how remarkable, how literally visceral, is the near glossolalic state of being possessed by uncontrollable laughter. In such states,
Fifteen facial muscles contract and stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (the main lifting mechanism of your upper lip) occurs. Meanwhile, the respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, so that air intake occurs irregularly, making you gasp. In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and the struggle for oxygen intake continues, the face becomes moist and often red (or purple).
The power of laughter, then, goes beyond even rhetorical forms of influence causing these profound, neurological, physical, and affective responses. It’s manipulative, to be sure, but also therapeutic, and there’s even a field of inquiry called Gelotology that studies the ways that humor and laughter act upon the human body. Among the health claims made for laughter are these:
Laughter can increase blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, increase heart rates which burns calories, boost the immune system by increasing antibodies, T-cells and B-cells, increase oxygen levels which aids in healing, and reduces anxiety. Laughter can reduce levels of cortisol, growth hormone and catecholamines and is studied in psychoneuroimmunology.
What better and more salubrious way, then, to down the bitter pill of poetry?
I mention all this today because the work of the two poets you are about to hear, Rick Wiggins and K. Silem, or Kasey, Mohammad, in that order, is hilarious almost beyond measure. Such hilarity doesn’t just happen. It is the product of obsessive prosodic craftsmanship and, and it lays bare the ridiculousness at the core of, well, everything.
For more biodata on these two you may consult the world-wide web, but here are a few salient facts. I found Rick in a crevice among some digital bulrushes – where exactly may become clear in his reading – and learned later that he has a great fondness for Popeye as well as inexpensive peanut butter. Kasey is a nutty professor with a thing for Shakespeare, and I have it on very good authority – that is to say, Kasey himself - that he is good in bed, although I can’t attest to that from personal experience. I do know that when he taught at Naropa a few summers ago, his young female students appreciatively tossed their panties at him at his faculty reading.
The tenor of their work is similar. They are both, in a way, writing multiple-personae poems, and surely their influences have a good deal of overlap – like, uh… movies? rock and roll? the internet? But there are distinctions, too.
Where one is crumbly, the other is thick. One is more fluffy, citrusy and dry, the other barnyardy and velvety.
One is perhaps more herbaceous, flaky, tangy, rich, aged, lingering, waxy, fresh, grassy, grainy, weeping, and fruity, while the other is soft, bold, mellow, creamy, veined, peppery, rustic, rubbery, and stinky.
As to which is which, I will let you be the judge of that, should you actually have enough presence of mind while your internal organs contract and expand involuntarily, your face turns beet-purple, and you are wiping away floods of hysterical tears.
So, without further cheesiness, please welcome to his Segue debut on this St. Patrick’s Day, the remarkable Rick Wiggins.