Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Barbara Guest

Barbara Guest was born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1920. She attended the University of California in Los Angeles and Berkeley before moving to New York City in the 1950s, where she soon became part of the city’s vibrant art scene. Like many other New York School poets, she combined her poetic work with art criticism, serving as associate editor of ARTnews from 1951 to 1954.

While her work of the 1950s and 60s can be described as a tension-filled balance between “a lyric, or purely musical, impulse […] and a graphic or painterly impulse.” (Tyrus Miller in Contemporary Poets), her later work moved its attention more to language itself. As Paul Hoover puts it in the anthology: “Guest is not a poet of social statement; neither is she confessional: her work focuses instead on the possibilities of language.”

In addition to her poetic work, Guest also published a highly regarded biography of the Imagist poet H.D., Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World (1986) as well as an experimental novel, Seeking Air (1978).

Guest’s honours include the Robert Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America, the Longwood Award, a San Francisco State award for poetry, the Lawrence Lipton Award for Literature, the Columbia Book Award, and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.

She died in 2006.


My below poem is inspired by Guest’s magnificent “Red Lilies”.

~ - ~


the finger smudges on the tablet don’t really say anything
what’s behind the now black screen
my words, the Lacanian Other, the snaps from our last holiday
(where did we even go?)

deeper imprints are found elsewhere

the thinned out patch of carpet under your desk
where you spend your blue light mornings

the groves of my spine
scratches, the broken skin

the dark lines of dirty water running down our living room wall
(someone needs to fix the roof)

the little pink post-it note left in your copy
of Simulacra and Simulation
lying on the floor in my room, saying

“phantasms and the imaginary as waste of a hyperreal life”

my thoughts scattered like petals of a withering lily
I keep the browser open in the back

fingers flickering

only theory is flawless
each practice run leaves its trace

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Miguel Algarin

Born in Puerto Rico, Miguel Algarin moved to New York City with his family in the early 1950’s. He studied at the University of Wisconsin and Penn State University before completing his doctorate in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University where he served as a professor of Shakespeare for more than 30 years.

Algarin was one of the driving forces of the Nuyorican Movement of the 1980s in New York and co-founded the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the Lower East Side in 1980. The café turned into one of the key cultural institutions of the movement, offering a broad mix of poetry and prose readings, theatrical and musical performances, and visual arts exhibitions.

In addition to publishing more than ten collections of original poetry, Algarin also translated the work of Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. He has co-edited a number of anthologies including Action: The Nuyorican Poets Café Theater Festival (1997), Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café (1994), and Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings (1975).

Algarin has received three American Book Awards and became the first Latino to win the Before Columbus Lifetime Achievement American Book Award in 2009.


Inspired by Algarin’s bilingual poems, I took the opportunity to examine the role of bilingualism in my own relationship.

~ - ~

the newness of every syllable between us

we said it early on. effortlessly
in the first frenzy of passion and delight.
speech-bubble easy. you first, me shortly after.
propelled not just by the essence of its meaning
but by its fresh, unfamiliar sound.
said without hesitation because it was lighter.
singular. unburdened of the weighty
history of you and i and those before.
a rose a rose a rose. just we in uncharted territory.
the newness of every syllable between us free
from the grammar that we had learned.
it was easy to say it
and yet the truth is still unaltered
I say it now: Ich liebe Dich.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Charles Olson

It is safe to say that Charles Olson is one of the most important American poets of the 1950s and 1960s. His work at Black Mountain College as well as his ground-breaking manifesto “Projective Verse” had a profound influence on a whole generation of poets which followed. As Paul Hoover puts it in the anthology:

“If Allen Ginsberg was the popular and spiritual leader of the post-war experimental poetry, Charles Olson was its leading thinking and strategist.”

Born in 1910 in Worcester, Massachusetts, he studied at Wesleyan University and received his first Guggenheim fellowship for his studies of Herman Melville, Call Me Ishmael at the age of twenty-nine. His first poetry collection Y & X was published in 1947, the same year he began lecturing at Black Mountain College – first as visiting lecturer and later as rector. After the school closed in 1956, Olson moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where his experimental opus, The Maximus Poems is set. In addition to the several volumes of The Maximus Poems, Olson also wrote a large number of shorter poems which were posthumously collected in the volumes Archaeologist of Morning (1970) and Selected Poems by Charles Olson (1993). He died in New York in 1970.


My below poem combines language from Olson’s “In Cold Hell, in Thicket” with the theme of online harassment of women. The italicised interjections are taken from two blogs documenting the harassment experienced by women in the video gaming community: 30 Days of Sexism and Fat, Ugly or Slutty.

~ - ~

In cold heaven, in thicket

In cold heaven, in thicket
in wicked thicket of virtual words, how
detached (as digital, metonymic) how
strong (as at least one upper and one lower case, one number) how
save (as if - )
can a woman stay confronted


all things are made bitter
as bitter words
are made to taste like centuries of back-
ward motion oppression hegemony
those shining achievements
(Rosa Parks, Wangari Maathai, Malala Yousafzai) lined up
to be knocked down again
in a single

yo bitch! do you swallow?


what has she to say?
in this heaven
is it not easy
all gayety
all fun all limitless
play by which code declares itself
space, arched
around a single limp to pleasure him
who lies in stasis (i.e. wait - At leisurely distance to physical calamity)
at ease as any monarch or

how shall she who is not happy, who as been so made metonymically

fat cunt

who is no longer privileged to be at ease, who in this thicket dares
to express an opinion (sillyly), how
shall she turn this unbidden place, how
trace and arch again
its inherent goodness?
(as she is still believing)


she can, but how far, how
sufficiently far can she raise the thickets (wickeds) of
this web?

how can she change, her question is
these black on white knivings, these

Hi beauty! Web cam chat horny?

when here she is frozen not daring
to press enter from fear
she’ll trespass on his disfiguring boner, here
where there is altogether too much of this -

Wanna go to pound land? Get fucked up. Overdose!


The question she raises herself up against
(against the same each act is accessed, fixed under every
eye) is:
are you a girl?
if so, can I see your tits?

is the object, this
the objectionable, this
the objectification
impossible to ignore

so shall you blame those
who give it up, those who say
it isn’t worth the struggle?


But this heaven
this hell
is not be got out of, is
the surface of your life
your daily motions
and who
can turn this total thing away?
can live without it


It is simple
(as simple twos and ones go)
that she shall shape, she
will code, she
is always
moving on, pushing out

into the space that is the web that
is (potentially could be) heaven

for all
arched and starry
by way of taking

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Bruce Andrews

As founding editor (with Charles Bernstein) of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the journal of poetics that gave language poetry its name, Bruce Andrews is one of the key originators of the movement as well as one of its most fearless experimenters.  As The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Literature in English notes about Andrews: he is "a poet whose texts are some of the most radical of the Language school; his poetry tries to cast doubt on each and every 'natural' construction of language."

Born in Chicago, Andrews studied international relations and political science first at John Hopkins and later at Harvard. His background in political science – Andrews has taught political science at Fordham University since 1975 with a focus on global capitalism, US imperialism, and the politics of communication - also clearly reflects in his poetic work. As one of the most fervent proponents of poetry as cultural critique, his work seeks to accomplish social change through the systematic disruption of language. As critic Brian Kim Stefans notes in a 2001 review of Paradise & Method: Poetics & Praxis in the Boston Review:

“Using the very language at hand—the words and rhythms of the poem itself—Andrews hopes to reveal, in as harsh a light as possible […] the complex social vectors underlying even our most mundane activities and assumptions.”

Andrews is the author of more than thirty collections of poetry and performance scores. He has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Harvestworks, and Engine 27.

I would highly recommend checking his EPC page which contains a fantastic selection of Andrews’ poetic and theoretical work as well as a bunch of helpful texts on him.


My below poem took its inspiration from Andrews’ usage of the ready-made language of our – often consumerist-tinted - everyday lives. Reflecting – as Juliana Spahr does in her brilliant piece on Andrews’ work – on the particular configuration of Andrews’ “I” and its non-pluralist, negative, almost intentionally disgusting tendencies; I decided to create a vaguely confessional text out of the stereotypical website copy for a kitchen retailer – an experiment.

~ - ~

Home Sanctuary

the doors and drawers on my kitchen help me get coordinated
I admire their symmetric steely look
I don’t compromise about functionality
what goes on behind those closed kitchen doors
dark interiors to blend with my finishes
legs, open or closed
gives free reign to imagination -
how flexible the system truly is

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

David Trinidad

David Trinidad was born in Los Angeles and raised in the San Fernando Valley. He attended California State University in Northridge, where he studied poetry with Ann Stanford. He is associated with a group of poets including Amy Gerstler and Dennis Cooper, who gave readings at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California in the early 1980s, but he moved to New aYork City in 1988. As editor of Sherwood Press, he published books by Cooper, Flanagan, Gerstler, Tim Dlugos, Alice Notley, and many others. Trinidad’s first book of poems, Pavane, was published in 1981. Since then he as published more than a dozen collections. Reminiscent of the work of Frank O’Hara, Trinidad often uses everyday life and pop culture as the basis for his poetry.

As a Eric McHenry from the New York Times Book Review observed:

“[Trinidad’s] most impressive gift is an ability to dignify the dross of American life, to honor both the shrink-wrapped sentiment of the cultural artifacts he writes about and his own much more complicated emotional response to them.”


My below poem was inspired by Trinidad’s use of the Malaysian form pantoum, which repeats the second and fourth line of one stanza as the first and third lines in the following one. While Trinidad uses the career and life of Nancy Sinatra as a theme for his poem, I chose the Wikihow for buying and preparing pomegranates.

~ - ~


pick the right fruit.
choose the heaviest pomegranates.
examine the shape.
choose the one with a deep coloured rind.

choose the heaviest pomegranates.
the rind should also be glossy.
choose the one with a deep coloured rind.
unripe pomegranates are round, like apples.

the rind should also be glossy.
their shape changes slightly as the fruit ripens.
unripe pomegranates are round, like apples.
a ripe pomegranate will have more of a square shape.

their shape changes slightly as the fruit ripens.
the sides will be flattened.
a ripe pomegranate will have more of a square shape.
test the fruit for any soft areas.

the sides will be flattened.
make sure your pomegranates aren’t bruised.
test the fruit for any soft areas.
hold each pomegranate and gently squeeze it.

make sure your pomegranates aren’t bruised.
they should be hard, with no mushy spots.
hold each pomegranate and gently squeeze it.
select pomegranates with smooth, unbroken surfaces.

they should be hard, with no mushy spots.
the rind should be soft enough to scratch.
select pomegranates with smooth, unbroken surfaces.
dress appropriately.

the rind should be soft enough to scratch.
you may want to grab an apron or change into an old shirt.
dress appropriately.
cut your pomegranate into quarters.

you may want to grab an apron or change into an old shirt.
fill a bowl with water.
cut your pomegranate into quarters.
a medium size mixing bowl should be deep enough.

fill a bowl with water.
place your quartered pomegranate in the water-filled bowl.
a medium size mixing bowl should be deep enough.
the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl.

place your quartered pomegranate in the water-filled bowl.
separate the seeds from the flesh.
the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl.
hold the pomegranate quarter with one hand.

separate the seeds from the flesh.
run your thumb around the clumps of seeds.
hold the pomegranate quarter with one hand.
enjoy eating the plump seeds.

run your thumb around the clumps of seeds.
examine the shape.
enjoy eating the plump seeds.
pick a the right fruit.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Elaine Equi

Elaine Equi grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended the creative writing programme at Columbia College, Chicago. Together with her husband, the poet Jerome Sala, she was at the forefront of Chicago’s lively performance poetry scene in the 1970s. Her dense, often extremely witty poetry has been widely anthologised, and she has received nominations for the Los Angeles Book Prize as well as the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize.

Links: (interview, 2011)

My below poem took its inspiration from Equi’s minimalist style and her use of the serial organisation common in surrealist poetry.

~ - ~


of all the things
a person

might do at any
given moment

fork coffee stirring
printing finger window dust

the morally right action
the use of language

with the best overall

quivering beneath
waiting for the sun

it seems easy to understand and
to be based on common sense

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey was born in 1947 in Miami, Florida. He grew up in California and attended Princeton and Stanford University.

Since 1978 he has published 9 collections of poetry along with his ongoing prose work From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, of which four volumes have been published so far.

Mackey’s poetry draws not only on the poetic tradition of William Carlos Williams and the passionate, decidedly Black writings of Amiri Baraka, but also on the sounds and feel of the music of jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Don Cherry. About his understanding of the connection between music and poetry, he writes:

“Poetic language is language owning up to being an orphan, to its tenuous relationship with the things it ostensibly refers to. This is why in Kaluli myth the origin of music is also the origin of poetic language.”

In addition to his work as a poet, Mackey also works as the editor of the literary magazine Hambone and was the coeditor, with Art Lange, of the anthology Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press, 1993).
His many awards and honours include the National Book Award for Splay Anthemin in 2006, an Artist’s Grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Bollingen Prize.

He lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches at Duke University.


My below poem took its inspiration from Mackey’s “Ghede Poem”. Where Mackey referred to a Haitian voudoun god, I decided to draw on pop culture instead.

~ - ~

Superman Poem

They call me Superman.
My cape folds neatly into the shirt sleeves of an office clerk.
I am Clark.
5.50 for 3 shirts at the dry cleaners.
Inky hands from the loyalty card stamp.
I take the elevator squeezed between my flat white and a rocket salad.
I say “up, up and away.”

They call me Superman and ask:
“When did you first realised that you could fly?”
I am waiting for the catastrophic.
No bird. No plane.
My fund manager missed-called and left no message.
I say “up, up and away.”

They call me Superman.
At night, I hover underneath your window.
Drooping, X-ray eyed and sad.
They ask: “How do you know how to control your power?“
That day I went out to buy the matching lampshade.
The sting of fire burning in my penis.
I say “up, up and away.”

They call me Superman.
I wrestle with severe displacement.
Can I help you with the thread from within?
My tights and red panties drying in the shower.
Monday’s coming.
I say “up, up and away.”

Sunday, 6 March 2016

John Cage

It seems silly to write an introduction for John Cage.

Arguably one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, Cage was what can be called a “polyartist", creating work in many fields: as a composer, writer, and visual artist. His ground-breaking compositional work, which pioneered a new conception of music based on the use of chance and other nonintentional methods also laid the foundation for this poetic work.

From the 1960s onward, Cage created a number of mesostics, a form of acrostics, which made use of pre-existing texts from writers such as Henry David Thoreau, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. Through chance methods such as casting the I Ching, Cage created texts from found materials which not only challenged the status of the author but also posed questions about the structure of syntax itself.

As Cage put it:
“Syntax, like government, can only be obeyed. It is therefore of no use except when you have something particular to command such as: Go buy me a bunch of carrots.”


My below poem combines Cage’s ideas about the role of “everyday noises” with his favourite poetic form: the mesostic. Drawing on the material of “everyday noises” created by my Facebook feed, I created a text centred around the notion of the Filter Bubble.

~ - ~

today is mother’s day

                 let your Friends know if you’re celebrating
                       peopLe you may know
           black sabbaTh, 1970
                           seE all friend recommendations
             she was boRn on the top bunk in the barracks of camp c at auschwitz-birkenau in december 1944

                                                                           as the Boat listed and took on water, and with most of the women and children stuck below deck
                                                                                   mUm’s the word
                          ecstatic to say that i passed my initial Body balance training
while women everywhere
                     continue to be judged on their looks, and Blamed when they fail to make enough or the right kind of effort
                                       by 2050 we could have more pLastic than fish in our oceans
                                                              feels like you neEd to know this exists

                                   beautiFul portraiture of the very first brain surgery patients
                          i support thIs
                                           pLease sign & share
           even after the graduaTe made him a superstar
    has anyone in clarkston nEar eastwoodmains road seen sheerie
                                      go cRaft now

                                                   a man took a razor Blade and very carefully cut open his nose
                                 happy mother's day to all the fUr baby mums
pointless as it may be, i wish this
                          woman, whom i have never met, a Better future life, if only as the mother of the daughter she never had
                                                                                  Backed by experts, based on decades of clinical research
                                                          the name's hiddLeston
                                                                           grimEs as mrs. marilyn manson

sign >> by 2050 our oceans could contain more plastic than Fish                                                                                    cat (admIn)
                                                    portraits of inmates from a ‘Lunatic asylum,’ 1869
                                                         nobody takes their mum To the cinema on mother’s day
some people go through
                               their whole life without meeting that influEntial person who will change the way they think about love and life
                                      rise and shine - baking bread from scaRtch is nowhere near as daunting

                          when i look at the right side of my face i can see the damage, But randy says nice things to me that make me feel just as attractive as before the incident
       a successful day in the library is one where people complain, like they woUld with any other local authority service
                                                                                   first person language and aBleism
                                                             the proposed statue of sylvia has always Been rejected
                                                          perhaps, then, we should be asking a slightLy different question
                                                             7 activities that make your orgasm strongEr

                       my Friends think i’ve gone to a role-playing sex party
                          grImes - art angels, the new album, out now
the star
         wars george Lucas doesn’t want you to see
perhaps the most sTriking aspect of these interviews is the sheer variety of testimonies we encountered
who can sympathizE
       conor mcgregoR had rarely been tested in his fight career until he came up against nate diaz

for labour supporters unconvinced by jeremy corByn, the search for an authentic voice leads to the door of the outspoken member for
birmingham yardley
to cap it all, he declared
            that “the last time we didn’t live within oUr means we were right in the front rank of nations facing economic crisis”
                                                             it is a safe Bet there will never be another nathan tinkler
                                                                      the bBc is under unprecedented political pressure, its morale is low
                          in defeat conor mcgregor can stilL win
                               whatever content you need, gEt it with istock credits

i had no idea i’d ever want time by myselF
                                   you might as well lIve a godly life, because if he exists, well, great, you are going to go to heaven
hillary clinton versus
                              donald j. trump has alL the makings of a rambunctious, vicious clash of styles
        it's kicking off with gilles peterson This week
                                      flipping good beEe
                watch as the iconic southwesteRn landscapes come to life

   1 top + 1 sports Bra + 1 leggings from only £26
          i cried so mUch that my family thought i was concealing some terrible news
can you really
      tell anything aBout people by their favourite colour
our loft contained
          more teddy Bears than you would have thought humankind could design
i don’t know who Likes this
    my ma at the agE i'm at now, always an inspiration

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Tom Mandel

“I was educated in Chicago's jazz and blues clubs, by early encounters with poets and jazz musicians, and at the University of Chicago where I studied with Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Harold Rosenberg and David Grene on the Committee on Social Thought.”

Tom Mandel’s biography is not a straightforward one. It leads from Chicago, New York, and San Francisco to Paris and back to “a small town bordering the Atlantic”. It involves teaching positions at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois as well as a brief period as the Director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University. But it also involves editorial work at the Macmillan Company, work as a consultant to UNESCO, the life of an English teacher in Paris, and freelance consultancy work in the technology industry. But woven through all of this is poetry.

Often associated with the Language movement, Mandel has published more than a dozen collections of poetry. His work has been included in countless newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies including In The American Tree and Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Hoover’s anthology includes three poems from his 1991 collection Realism.


My below poem was inspired by a line in Tom Mandel’s “Say Ja”: “Ein Dichter dessen Worte … waren” – which send me looking through some old German poetry volumes. There, I came across Friedrich Hebbel’s “Der Letzte Baum” (The Last Tree). The poem’s lines – crudely translated by an internet tool – offered the basis for my own poem.

~ - ~


just as the sun sets
gives one last tree
under one last free

this is the like
in the morning flames of distant heavens
choking steaming screaming leaveless hum

it is a tree
and nothing else –

which in return remains
nothing added
just chemically readjusted to -

but one
thinks at night
of the last
wonderful light –
just as the sun sets
which is to say
with no heed to time or
times or earthly
the day after today

so will all be perfectly intended
similar-ly silly-ly

the one last
on lasting
ours – 
how very very silly-ly

this is the like
in the morning flames

now leaves us
one last twig:

you hold us firmly
but yet
abandoned still
with the final bill for all times

Ein Dichter dessen Worte … waren:
Es ist ein Baum
und weiter