Sunday, 29 March 2015

John Giorno

I am sure John Giorno is one of the coolest people on the planet.
Visit his website and you will be greeted with him standing in front of a wall of giant posters proclaiming “It’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it”, “We gave a party for the gods and the gods all came” and “Life is a killer”. If one things is for certain it is that with John Giorno poetry is alive. Paul Hoover calls Giorno the “leader in the development of poetry as performance and entertainment medium” and there is loads to see of that – not just in his written poetry but also in the various recordings by the Giorno Poetry Systems. I definitely recommend browsing through the sounds which are available on his website, featuring names like John Cage and Allen Ginsberg, Patty Smith, William Burroughs, Anne Waldman and Laurie Anderson – told you he was cool.

~ - ~

Life is the worst decisions
After John Giorno

I wish you could
say something
for certain. I
hover. Feeling lo-res
acting out updates.
They are laughing too loud.
Someone is
always online.
They are laughing
way too loud
someone is always
online. The vibrations
down to the
bone. I
meet. I
need to post.

Eyes wide at 3am by
blue light and
nervous. I
make the worst
decisions when
I am thinking
too much. I
make the worst
I am still typing.
He is
typing. I
make the
worst decisions when
I am thinking too

Sunlight in my
highlights and large
with a lo-fi filter.
That’s the trick
that works best.
I look the success
I have.
I look success.
I look success.
it. We all filter.
I am a selective
human and maybe
not so. We
all filter. I
make the worst
decisions on
a Saturday night.

and ones add
up to
a pretty big number.
I am user-generated too.
I am generated.
I generate
full-time even when I
shouldn’t. There’s a
on pretty
much everything.
You can follow me.
You can follow me
anywhere. My trail smells
expensive. Comes cheap.
There’s a tag on
much everything.

I am up to date.
I am tactile.
I am intuitive.
I have feel.
I stay connected.
I stay connected.
I feed you if you feed me.

I am hashing things. 140
at a time. I am
cutting. My most rigorous
editor. I am hashing
things. An incision down the
spine. I make
the worse decisions
when I am
trying. I cut
myself. I make the
worse decisions.
I am online.
Life is a

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ron Silliman

Poetry (it seems) is Ron Silliman’s life. He started publishing poetry in his early twenties, at first in mainstream journals like Poetry Northwest and TriQuarterly but moved away from this kind of poetry fairly soon. Today he is probably one of the most influential figure in contemporary poetics (at least according to the Poetry Foundation) and an important part of the original group of language poets. I could write whole paragraphs about him and his amazing work which encompasses more than 30 books of poetry, critical work, collaborations and anthologies and includes ground-breaking ideas like the “new sentence”. Since the 1970s he has been working on one complex piece of work entitled Ketjak which is made up of a series of individual books: The Age of Huts (1974-1980), Tjanting (1979-1981), The Alphabet (1979-2004), and Universe (2005-present). Each of these books makes use of a slightly different procedure, so e.g. Tjanting is written according to the Fibonacci number sequence, whereas The Alphabet represents a long book made of smaller books, each of which focuses on a different letter of the alphabet. I highly recommend reading the biography on the Poetry Foundation website to get even a glimpse of the amplitude of his work.
I am personally a big fan of language poetry and love playing around with writing procedures and rigid constraints. I am with the essayist Hank Lazer who once noted that language poetry is “following upon the most adventurous work of Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams and Jack Spicer.” Who would say no to adventures like that?
Following Ron Silliman’s procedure of Tjanting, I also chose a number sequence to determine the number of sentences in each paragraph. In my case this number sequence is 5-smooth (aka regular numbers), a numbers sequence which also appears in music theory in the just intonation of the diatonic scale. See below for the result.


~ - ~

After Ron Silliman 

So what.

Cool and caring sweet on a late night bar stool. She smiled.

Smooth over what matters. It was compelling. The gleam caught in the brass yellow light shivering like a hot tune.

No, no, no. The definite certainty over little flicks as he drew it to his mouth. Singing. Sweet sweet sugar baby in the murky tea.

Dancing like a rain cloud. A land of just. The pitches in a single octave of this scale along rising steady as she. She shoe off caught by. A blue in green.

This could be a tune if anyone cared to blow it. This could be certainly certainty. Cool as caring in a long way past the bottom of a high bowl. Don’t look at me that way. She said. She keep them on the whole time while it trickled down her spine.

Don’t mingle. Stay sweet. Don’t be hasty with the burning iron. In the corner of the room the lights drew to a close softly like the blues. Track listing evenly divide powers of sixty, for example like the k-smooth. It was sticking to the drum beat counterhoop clockwise. The brushes on the skin like white sand through an hourglass. She kept it slow.

A filing cabinet with the dirty sleeves. Three fingers of scotch and a roll of mints. On the bar it was getting later every minute. Silver sheen in the dim before he went. It was a push and a pull and sticky chewy saxophone. It was driving everybody to the corners of the night. This isn’t a story. So what if this isn’t a plot. She shoe off caught by in the rain.

Black keys stroking something heavy behind the backstage door. Something sensually compelling behind the brass wood. She drew the stool an inch closer smelling sweetly. She said. Little matters most. An American song book lay open beside a bottle of red and a handkerchief. Rings of red and Jupiter. Which might be the solution – a regular number. A caller disconnected, resolved in aspirin. A simple tune filled the sky.

She shoe off caught by sense of midnight. The laces around her thighs. My heavy breath so no no. So what. So better gin, no hesitation. He held a feeble note in sweaty palms. Bright light she waited, playing jukebox. A dime thrown through an algorithm into something white. A blue in green. A sudden shudder. A tune changed numbers in a certain way. A strange fix and kind of blue.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn was a New York Poet – but then again, he wasn’t. He spent most of his life in New York City, yet as Robert Creeley points out his Preface to Against the Silences, he was still strongly shaped by the experience of his Puritan New England childhood. He was an important figure in the New York poetry scene of the 1950s and 60s, organising readings and helping out fellow poets, yet one of his most important influences were the Provencial poets he started studying in his 20s and which he translated throughout his life. As a close friend to Robert Creeley he has often been associated to the Black Mountain Poets, but he himself resisted such categorisation. His own poetics – probably summarised best in his 1954 statement ( – lays a great emphasis on the sound quality of poetry. Reading it today – more than 60 years later – I found some of his words almost prophetic, or maybe we have just been heading in the same bloody direction for 60 years!

I recommend checking out the recordings of his readings on Penn Sound and a whole bunch of poems on EPC.

~ - ~

Hackney Pandora
After Paul Blackburn

it’s not so much about
as about               finding  someone
to blame for all
the         dog shit
& take-away                      chicken
bones & blue
off-license plastic bags
garnishing the   trendy                  side-
walks     of artisan sourdough dreams

sweeping            it                            all           up
every morning at six thirty-five before
we          catch
the over               - ground to highbury     or kingsland
as if        land                      -fill the fucking void
or congestion

just like the cats
and sacks
and that               weirdo schroedinger
(or so they say )              when
singed fur smell &            skunk                   fills the
& you can’t escape                           it
                forty hours are never                     enough
in the shade of
 shards &
 restaurant                          bookies
plain                      payday mockery 

most of us           (  living)                               in            a              box
with the mouldy bits
&             three     weeks                   of rent                                 behind

so all      they                       are concerned   about
is to                                                        screw
the lid back on
the lid back on
so that
fucking laughing cynic

 hope                    remains

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Michael McClure

Once upon a time poetry was right in the middle of counter culture and coolness – and right in the centre of that was Michael McClure. He was one of the five poets who read at the famous 1955 Six Gallery event that launched the San Francisco Renaissance and introduced the world to the Beat Generation. He read poetry to the caged lions in San Francisco Zoo. He lent his voice to the San Francisco hippy movement. He was close friends with Jim Morrison and performed with Ray Manzarek. He wrote songs which Janis Joplin sung; – and those were only the ‘early’ days of his career. Since then, he has continued to work as a poet as well as publishing multiple plays, essay collections and novels, and even working as a documentary film maker.
His poetry is often concerned with the corporeal and our primate emotions and animal drives. The Poetry Foundation quotes a piece about McClure in Publishers Weekly with the words:
“McClure infuses ecstatic direct address and colloquial diction with an exquisite sensibility, one that reveals the world in its ordinary complex gorgeousness.”
In my own response I was particularly taken in by McClure’s piece in the anthology entitled Hymn to Saint Geryon. It immediately resonated with me as I have recently read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (which I can highly recommend – it is an astonishing book!), which is also concerned with the mythological creature Geryon. I found myself considering the strange connections between the different poets who wrote about this character over a time of hundreds of years. In a sense, the below poem is therefore not so much a response to McClure but a response to his reference to Geryon.


~ - ~


It was a difficult interval to be a poet
our fourteen legs and arms scrambled
our red wings tightly knit
subject to the plain
subject to rigorous editing
a little dog and magnificent cattle
a monster and his bloody death
It was Dante
It was Stesichoros (blind with the feeling)
It was Anne Carson
It was Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
they were hunting for red
they were dissecting bodies
putting black lungs and shivering hearts on display
behind plate glass in the hallway
the big air vent was always running
easily digestible chunks of cooked meat
There was Dante
There was Stesichoros (looking at an angle)
There was Anne Carson
There was Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
we kept our hands in the pockets of our
overcoats tightly pulled around our chest
with sleeves too short for grand gestures
with too few sleeves to cover every red limb
like hair raised stiff against the fabric
our wings neatened caringly as they pushed us through the door
So was Dante
So was Stesichoros (hearing not listening)
So was Anne Carson
So was Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
our porous body stood little chance against the photoshop
our scaled hot skin too shiny for the taste
too red with defiance
every word pins and needles for a tailored suit
grey flannel row subduing riots within
As if Dante
As if Stesichoros (singing brave counter)
As if Anne Carson
As if Michael McClure

It was a difficult interval to be a poet
all caps had turned into an insult
each sign restricted in numbers and clicks
a square was the most popular means or 350 pages
not fragments but digits debris virtuality
left without material page without
eyes but not without monsters
It was Dante
It was Stesichoros (raging red)
It was Anne Carson
It was Michael McClure

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Charles Bukowski

Time Magazine once called Charles Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”, someone able to invite the whole world along on a journey into the dark alleyways of urban America. He certainly is a true cult writer with millions of fans around the world; who’s life has been immortalised in movies and books.
Bukowski was a hard-working writer, publishing a large number of poetry collections, novels, short-stories and screenplays – you can find the whole impressive list on his Wikipedia entry. Yet the machismo display of sex, alcohol abuse and violence which is presented in his work seems to have prevent the scholarly attention which some of his fellow Black Sparrow Press poets have received.
In his introduction to the five poems featured in the anthology Paul Hoover explains that Bukowski somehow occupies a particular position within the poetry scene at the time: “Although his work is reminiscent of Beat poetry in its confessionalism, existential bleakness, and use of American speech, Bukowski implicitly rejects visionary and shamanistic poetics in favour of a gritty roominghouse lyricism.”

~ - ~

Comparing Notes
(w/ Mr B)

The blood
-shot eyes
and scabbed elbows revealing
soft tissue
heavy breath over
the sudden
broken nails
and the long blonde
curls on the bathroom floor
dirty tiling
three hundred pages
into Simone de

and he still thinks
about his size
in the world
and he still keeps
note of his size
in a world

that no longer exists

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Kenneth Koch

Kenneth Koch turned out to be a tricky one. The 5 poems Paul Hoover includes in the Anthology showcase two very different kinds of poetry. On the one hand there is Koch the very comical, surreal, lyrical poet, the poet the Newsweek once called “the funniest serious poet we have”. It is non-narrative poetry with a great love for the sound and texture of words, very artful and yet seemingly lighthearted. On the other side there is Koch as a poet of long, much simpler, almost narrative pieces full of autobiographical references and everyday life.
Hoover claims, this change in Hoover’s style is due to “three influences: falling in love and getting married; the counsel of his friend Frank O’Hara, who praised modesty and directness in art; and seeing a production of Peter Pan, the simplicity and even ‘dumbness’ of which he admired.”

Although I found both the early and the later pieces in the Anthology very powerful, I was struggling with finding an adequate way of responding. Having no talent for comic text I found myself drawn more to Koch’s ‘narrative’ poems. The following piece is a response to With Janice. It was created with a particular constraint to guide my writing. I adopted the first word of every line of his poem, writing a poem of identical line number and with the same line beginnings. I have to admit I am not good with long poems, so this one really was a challenge for me. Read it below.

More about Kenneth Koch:


With Words
( A Variation On A Vertical Line By Kenneth Koch )

The threatening silence of the
White page as if it
Hiding blank fear
Or the bloody
Hardnesses of sans serif truths
( Earlier necessary for brilliancy like a diamond-tip saw blade )
At which point I always hesitate                leaving watery ink stains
Knowing that little can be said at all about these things and how they
Were or came to be .
It’s hard to remember past the
Magna cum laude which
Rushing in our veins then   & how
Things seemed to take on the magical form of possibility
Or at least that’s what we thought while
Pottering about cold & draughty single-glassed flats in the City
Of stock market dreams .
I often
Sat alone with my guardian & paper cup steaming against East End shop fronts
 ( It’s something reasonably popular with all of us   as if we were terriers & each of them a
Tree  or a lamp post or something )
While desperation was greasy   gathering like the stale bottom of
A pint of cheap cider in our after-
Noons   brim-full with frothed content  creamily engaging 
Drinking handsomely crafted artisan brew .
A bohemian sepia filter frame which   you told me
Has to eventually fall when the blutack [tm] dries up
In the hot air .
A romance suffering from the
Closer proximity of keys than locks  or the swipe
Of a thumb on
My image .  We were
Having difficulties to connect . Everything was open .
As you
And I gathered all of our O’Hara and Koch
And my Whitman and your Bukowski and my
Stein and your fucking R.D. Laing .
“ So right   you know   so right  … ”
To what degree only you could tell and certainly weren’t sharing any
Of it   with me .
These things affected both of us but
The uncertainty      we told ourselves   was part of the thrill    part of the triumph
To go for it     all
Or nothing
As simple as that
And never to question .   It
Was wearing thin .    And who
Will wait that long out in the freezing Brick Lane lines
Of midnight misery anyway with little hope for
Soap or paper towels or even a bloody loo seat .
We watched it happen .
It happened and we swallowed it
Down .
A straw or one of those ridiculous little parasols    pink
And beats too heavy with the aspirin taste
Was all anyone got
Was all anyone could wish for and still we went   like it meant anything .
The sun was coming up woozily . Clouds
Were their natural selves like no one else .
Or so it seemed as I envied them
Circling around warehouses barefoot
On sticky tar . 
That was before we traded words
For ebony    shiny off-white morals
But you said
“ Character matters   & to
Know one’s weaknesses is to know
Delight . “
Of course that was purpose-built redbrick a long way from
Harvard or Oxbridge or just Tottenham Court Road .
( Against which there is nothing to say whatsoever
You have to start somewhere    even on the N38 )
Things seemed to develop in certain ways irregardlessly
And we held hands & you held me & I licked & sucked
Kneeling or lying in the dry grass in Victoria Park .
It rained a lot the following autumn & you went away
To Berlin . Paris seemed
Like nothing but a silly idea .    There
Are gaps between words sometimes & people . My lines weren’t
Going anywhere .
The bright blue light kept me awake at night
Just long enough to form
A thought & see my scrambling for paper .
You laughed sometimes at my absurdities . The smudging and
Spilling of precious ink .   But
Those were really just minor
Because major is reserved for the times when exhaustion is
Surpassing the cynic glee of shopping centres & plastic
Blossoms take on a dusty charm .
In any case we were drifting in somewhat different directions .
I still went for walks down the canal with my headphones on
( As privacy is a matter of determination & insulation in this city ) &
Then I went into the marshes
With a pencil in my pocket   like you told me
And blank sheets of paper tucked into my jeans .
Out there the sky was bigger than ever before &
For a while blue was a good thing & so
Were foxes & crows    & I cared little about their meaning .
The magpie sat on my window sill for a fortnight & we had some fun . But
As the sting of the burned rubber smell was getting heavy
We sought shelter from the gathering clouds . It was
On a hot summer day when all the shops closed early   shutters down
It was a storm of anger coming    a tide of rage
And fury breaking through high street window panes .
The city was shivering & it felt for the first time like
Maybe things were going to change    maybe things were going to develop
In some way & move from now into the future    like you &
I   I hoped but the telly said they were just stealing trainers    your hand on my
Breast that night was chafing   your grip was too tight    I kept my
Eyes closed & left
While the shower was still running .
Beyond that point things just got complicated
Or I just couldn’t find the right words to put in the right order for you
I kept up my routine like everyone said I should
Hot baths & such    which I never cared for    ( never really liked )   but you got to not
Let yourself down etc.   like it’s anyone’s
Business what height I am
And if deep sea diving would be the only truly appropriate response
To all of this .
In retrospect the
Air then seems always heavy with the smog & anxiety
( To remember    it seems    is really just another silly magic trick    the one
With the rabbit     only slightly adapted   like you could cramp fricking
Dinosaurs into an old battered hat )
All the vague messages
Of little content     of few character   sent past 11
Pm    a distant
Life seeped through cold LED glow    . . .
Of course you didn’t mean it like the way I read it .      Rush hour was taking a
Bite out of my sanity . Squashed against
The transparent divider    in the entrance area     between Kings Cross & Green Park
It was getting more & more difficult to focus
On the things which were really important .      Name two .
You called on the weekend & we talked again    it was easy
For you to talk like that 
From a distance words were
Simply easier    you said .   & I laughed uncertainly .  
“always is a tragedy not a love story “ you said
( Leonardo DiCaprio made a much better Romeo for me )      my
Absent -minded self slipped once or twice mostly
In the bedroom    the
Calm can always be found
Where the wild parties reel
In the morning dew .      In  the
Corridor down to the dancefloor the
Girls were bathing their faces in blue
And white .    My mascara seemed insignificant    dirty tiles transformed
Into red carpet dreams   lashes flashes hashtags & tan
“ How many
Messages did he sent you
In the last 2 hours
And how many did you send him
It’s all about who’s got the upper hand 
Why would you show him that you like him ?   you are
Wrecking your chances    do you want him to think of you
As a slag ?    “
The rules of the silly game everyone seemed to playing      The cool colour of my lipstick
Something  to hold on to as the night drew to a start .       “ How
Much to get me home from here ? “
I groped for my dancing shoes in the pitch black of the satin carpet   hesitating a
Moment on
Matted surface of
The brink .     I came home that morning
In my little dress & someone else’s trousers     Nothing is
Easily done in the city      everything takes twice as much as we can give .
Almost nothing can be said about any of this      apart from    you were my
Inspiration     as much as
I seemed to be yours  .     We
Scurried through each other’s lives in a way     vermin behaviour
The gnawing & scratching    the teeth marks in every bloody thing .   I stayed
Because you were staying .     Every word had
A meaning & we knew
Exactly what any of it meant .
Eventually is eventually and
A story is a story
By the end of it you
Look at the words & you
Will find not a single one you recognise .   They all shift   they all disappear into
The heartbeats   racing
Against the steady walker from
School to college to job    to marriage to mortgage to morgue    it
Flows & with it  it pulls them . My words &
I  miles apart . I
Meet them occasionally on the
Final days of spring time . We don’t talk much now
When I speak of you .

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Rosemarie Waldrop

Rosemarie Waldrop was born in Germany in 1935 and only immigrated to the US in the 1950s. Apart from her work as a poet she is also a successful translator, novelist and editor. She married Keith Waldrop and they together began publishing the Burning Deck Magazine in the early 1960s.

Paul Hoover chose a section of “Inserting the Mirror” from her 1987 work Reproduction of Profiles. It is a prose poem which responds to and works with the philosophical texts of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Excerpts of the text can be found on the How2 website here:

You can also find a few of her poems on the Poetry Foundation website, together with the usual profile:

I personally love her newest collection, Driven to Abstraction which was published by New Directions in 2010.

~ - ~

Wiping the mirror
After Rosmarie Waldrop

To explore the nature of the city I press my face to the steamy window pane and try to listen past the beats from the headphones of the girl ahead of me. In a misty city it is hard to hold on to anything. Every object fades as soon as your eyes focus. And then again some things never seem to fade - like the roar of the bus in the early morning, the heavy smell of fermentation or the silent rain. The pokes of umbrella ribs into your temples make philosophy a burden. I should know, I live with it every day.

We live in separate rooms but I wake up in his arms continually. Sometimes I dream of him at night. But in the morning my dreams are pushed inside by his hard reality. They quiver in his forceful grip and trickle syrupy into my steaming cup. He rolls up my mat while I am liquid, slowly slipping down the shower drain.

The beggar’s paper cup is filled with rain water. The coins fall into a wishing well. The ground-proximate means to keep a distance from the stars, to stay in orbit. No one ever considers the faces printed on bank notes these days. As if faces fade in the face of capitalism and anarchists wear balaclavas anyway.

I tried to understand the concept of patriotism by reading the Wikipedia entry on every country I could think of. Uruguay legalised gay marriage and marihuana last year. I was struck by the peculiar patterns of chaos across the planet. I remained motionless staring past the display but when I turned to face the world the connection had gone.

Down the deserted streets, wading through rivers, I wash way into New York City alleyways. The shadows of all those before me falling heavy on my chest. As I inhale my words are soaking. In my lungs tiny drops of water gathering.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Lorenzo Thomas

Lorenzo Thomas was born in Panama in 1944 and immigrated to the US with his family at the age of 4. He was part of the Black Arts Movement and New York School and a member of the Umbra workshop, a black writers’ collective whose members included poets Ishmael Reed and Calvin Hernton. 
His poetry is both personal and political, as John Ashbery express it: “Thomas’s poems have a graceful New York School nonchalance that can swiftly become a hard and cutting edge when he writes of the African American experience.” 

A few of his poems can be found online at the Poetry Foundation.

My own response to the two poems included in the Anthology below.

~ - ~

A Poet’s Business
After Lorenzo Thomas

the poet’s business       
is just words
as if such a thing
just words
even existed
as if
you could
say something
with no context or
but your words are
heavy now
and so are mine
and the windows
in the february wind

the poet’s business
to sweet
-talk to flatter to
to honey the bitter
taste of love
as it fades
or harvest the venom
the knife
in their gut
because it’s
all in their hand
it’s all their fault
could really be a bit more
you know
now and
the poet’s business
to delight to
revel to
not those bills
piling up on the desk
certainly not
those dishes
not those dirty sheets
the phone
ringing in the other
the muffled voices
certainly not the slamming

the poet’s business
is just
just words
in between

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Gustaf Sobin

Gustaf Sobin, born in Boston in 1935 actually spend most of his life in France. He made the acquaintance of the French poet Rene Char in 1962 and soon after decided to move to the country himself. Apart from his poetry he also published novels, essays and worked as a translator.
As Paul Hoover points out Sobin held to “an organic theory of composition”, which was often focused on the sonic aspects of language. His poetry is marked by heavy use enjambment as well as assonance and consonance. Although he did not belong to a particular school of poetry he was heavily influenced by Robert Duncan and George Oppen.

Hoover includes includes 3 of Sobin’s poems in his anthology: “Out of the Identical”, “What the Music Wants” and “Eleven Rock Poems”.

I found his poems a little bit harder to come by online. Here are just two sources I found:

~ - ~
Out of the dissimilar
After Gustaf Sobin

A hand’s
writing the
sheet is

its perspiration
out of tight

knots fingers
dug deep into
soft folds
of fabric

fast kinetic
pressure marks

(ink bleeding)
stains as