Monday, March 24, 2008


edited by Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts-London, 1994

(book review)

Although a couple of challenging inventions of our age have been related to the transmission and recording of the sound, our understanding of modernism, the avant-garde and postmodernism does not seem to have been transformed by the sound. Artists did not take advantage of the new technologies; and in fact contributions to the art of the sound are diverse, and historically incoherent. WIRELESS IMAGINATION/SOUND, RADIO, AND THE AVANT-GARDE is a brilliant collection of original essays and newly translated documents on the art of the sound composed with the aim of breaking the "deafening silence" which surrounds the sound, as the editors claim.

Reviewed here. is the medium of creative ambiguity.

"I begin with the idea of radio as an adventure, and part of the idea of an adventure is that you don't always know precisely where you are. To my ears, a good radio program invites the listener to navigate. Sometimes the waters get choppy, or the fog rolls in. I always remind myself that the first community of radio artists was a community of maritime distress and rescue, the community of S-O-S."

"My role is to open up a space of play between fact and fiction, certainly not to fool anybody. Not deception -- but play. For example, take Ice Music, in which a sextet of trumpets are frozen into an ice tray, then dropped into a glass of selzer to create a brass choir. Well, the dream of freezing sound is an old one, and it pops up in Rabelais and elsewhere, but it does not carry much water as science. The humor is in taking the illusion seriously enough to inhabit the conventions of a "real" discovery."

"Radio is at root a PULSE medium, it's the very nature of soundwaves. My own roots are in music and writing, so radio seemed like a lovely place to dance. I use music to set tone, certainly, but also to heighten the humor, create counterpoint or cross-reference. Listeners are trained to hear radio as a combination of Words and Music, so once again, why fight it? In a piece like Brain Mash, it's crucial to communicate the essential ingredient of TIME, if you aim to transform mashed Idaho tubers into living human brains."

"I've always believed deeply in the utopian side of radio, the wonderful power to create these temporary communities, among listeners you can never entirely anticipate or predict, very democratic and even random. The other side of radio flourishes, I call it radio Thanatos -- radio death. Radio was born as call for help (S.O.S), yet swiftly became a tool for destruction, whether in the rants of tyrants or, quite literally, as a weapon. But we should never underestimate or abandon the radio that is close to the beat of life, the rhythm of community, what I call Radio Eros."

Gregory Whitehead in conversation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Opening lines
(from the poetry of WS Graham):

Imagine a forest

I leave this at your ear for when you wake

Whatever you've come here to get

Shut up, shut up. There's nobody here.

Meanwhile surely there must be something to say

I called today, Peter, and you were away.

This morning I am ready if you are

Gently disintegrate me

Just for the sake of recovering

I have my yellow boots on to walk.

Take Matthew Sweeney's workshop in dramatic poetry (from where these openings are taken) here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"The elements of poetry are letters, syllables, words, sentences. Poetry arises from the playing off of these elements against each other. Meaning is only essential if it is to be used as one such factor. I play off sense against nonsense. I prefer nonsense, but that is a purely personal matter. I pity nonsense, because until now it has been so neglected in the making of art, and that's why I love it."

Kurt Schwitters. from Merz

Check out Slim Gaillard here.
section curated by Jerome Rothenberg

The breakthroughs of the last 100 years in poetry and elsewhere have been marked by new approaches to language and performance. Largely this has been the work of several generations of experimental writers and performers, many of them now archived and available thru Ubuweb and related web sites. It fell to some of us, starting with forerunners like Tristan Tzara and Antonin Artaud, to track related but traditional approaches over a wide range of once impenetrable cultures throughout the world. In my own work I was able to bring some of these lines together in gatherings of the 1960s and 1970s like Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin, as well as in the magazine Alcheringa that I co-edited for several years with Dennis Tedlock. The name that we gave this enterprise, as it applied to the world’s deep cultures – those surviving in situ as well as those that had vanished except for transcriptions in books or recordings from earlier decades – was ethnopoetics.

In the present Ubuweb collection of ethnopoetic openings, it’s our intention to build a sampler of what we take to be the second great breakthrough of the modernist poetry project. The search here is for a range of poetries outside the domain of customarily accepted literature. In particular we’re interested, in the spirit of other segments of Ubuweb, in soundings and visionings that are the traditional and often culturally acceptable counterparts to what in our own surroundings have been seen and heard as radical, even disturbing departures from conventional practice. In exploring these we will also be mindful of occasions on which the avant-garde experimental line has merged with or deliberately drawn from other culturally specific traditions.

We proceed in the spirit of Gertrude Stein, often quoted by me: The exciting thing about all this is that as it is new it is old and as it is old it is new, but now we have come to be in our way which is an entirely different way.

- Jerome Rothenberg, October 2002

View materials here.
Sound Poetry - An Historical Discography (1978)
Michael Gibb

(from Sound Poetry: A Catalogue, edited by Steve McCaffery and bpNichol, Underwich Editions, Toronto, 1978. Originally published in KONTEXTSOUND, Kontext Publications, Amsterdam 1977, revised & updated by bpNichol)

Details here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle, reviewed

Novelist Stephen Amidon is surprised by his test drive.
From The Sunday Times
March 9, 2008

... It is also possible to envision the Kindle causing a change in the nature of the literary text itself. Instead of the traditional flat accumulation of letters, one can imagine a page that is riven with all manner of links to Google or Wikipedia. The novel will wind up looking like your average blog. For instance, the novelist mentions that his hero is peering down into the Grand Canyon, and the reader need only click on those words to be given the same panoramic view. Or listen to a snippet of a symphony, or watch archival news footage. Or even, perish the thought, text a question or a critical response to the author.

Prospects such as this, rather than in the actual experience of reading the Kindle, are what have caused my reservations to grow. The beauty and genius of the traditional book is that it is a thing unto itself. It is self-contained. Its limitations are its strength. It has covers, and between them is an entire world created by the interplay between the author’s imagination and the reader’s. Once you connect that autonomous world to the shifting, boundless, hyperactive universe of cyberspace, you run the very real risk of severing that magical bond of imagination. Give the reader a photographic vista of the Grand Canyon and he no longer has to imagine it. By opening up the book to the limitless possibilities of the digital age, Amazon just might be risking closing it for good.

Read full review.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Charles Simic's Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell
reviewed by Guy Rotella

Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell.
Hopewell, New Jersey: The Ecco Press, 1992. 77 pp. $19.95.

"It goes without saying."
So nothing stays. But husks remain. As in "Deserted Perch." What's fled or flown can be evoked: the solace soothes; it menaces, too.
Nostalgic, enigmatic, even coy, Joseph Cornell's recuperating, scarifying work has urged a pride of poets to comment or verse. Octavio Paz wrote "Objects and Apparitions" for Cornell, calling his cased and uncontained constructions "cages for infinity." Elizabeth Bishop translated Paz's poem and made a "Cornell box" herself. In "Pantoum," John Ashbery enlists Cornell with other "connoisseurs of oblivion" who inhabit our "short, brittle" days. And Stanley Kunitz admires a Cornell work— "The Crystal Cage"—for its "basket of gifts," its "snowbox of wonders."

Read the full review here.
Non-Linear Adding Machine
Ekphrasis: Image and Text
Vessela Valiavitcharska

It’s not easy to separate the visual from the textual in discussions of communication. While some have argued for “a cognitive divide between oral and visual cultures” represented by the progression from the visual to the textual, it is far more likely that the two modes are connected, and that “cultures freely borrow and adapt” from visual and textual methods of representation “when the need arises.” One conversation about the relationship between the visual and the textual concerns ekphrasis, commonly defined as the poetic description of a work of art. Regretfully, this popular definition of the term disregards the long and rich rhetorical tradition of ekphrasis, which has been understood as the rhetorically charged description of anything that can be perceived visually or evoked mentally.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ekphrasis through the Ages

Introduction: Eight Ways of Looking at Ekphrasis

by Shadi Bartsch and Jaś Elsner

Words about an image, itself often embedded in a larger text: ekphrasis today has become such an important element of scholarly approaches to the novel, to epic, to the Romantics, and even to genres beyond the literary, that it may be difficult to remember its relative obscurity of a quarter-century ago. Once skimmed over as superfluous, or derided as rhetorical showmanship, ekphrasis now seems to present countless opportunities for the discovery of meaning: it has been variously treated as a mirror of the text, a mirror in the text, a mode of specular inversion, a further voice that disrupts or extends the message of the narrative, a prefiguration for that narrative (whether false or true) in its suggestions.


In the middle of the Dial-A-Poem experience wqas the giant self-consuming media machine choosing you as some of its food, which also lets you get your hands on the controls because you've made a new system of communicating poetry. The newspaper, magazine, TV and radio coverage had the effect of making everyone want to call the Dial-A-Poem. We got up to the maximum limit of the equipment and stayed there. 60,000 calls a week and it was totally great. The busiest time was 9 AM to 5 PM, so one figured that all those people sitting at desks in New York office buildings spend a lot of time on the telephone, then the second busiest time was 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM was the after-dinner crowd, then the California calls and those tripping on acid or couldn't sleep 2 AM to 6 PM. So using an existing communications system we established a new poet-audience relationship.

Dial-A-Poem began at the Architectural League of New York in January 1969 with 10 telephone lines and ran for 5 months, during which time 1,112,337 calls were received. It continuted at MOMA in July 1970 with 12 telephone lines and ran for 2 and a half months and 200,087 calls were received. It was at The Musuem of Contemporary Art, Chicago for 6 weeks in November 1969 and since then has cropped up everywhere. This was with equipment working at maximum capacity and sometimes jamming the entire exchange. At MOMA, the 12 lines were each connected to an automatic answering set, which holds a pre-recorded message. Someone calling got randomly one of 12 different poems, which were changed daily. There were around 700 selections of 55 poets.

On this LP of Dial-A-Poem Poets are 27 poets. The records are a selection of highlights of poetry that spontaneously grew over 20 years from 1953 to 1972, mostly in America, representing many aspects and different approaches to dealing with words and sound. The poets are from the New York School, Bolinas and West Coast Schools, Concrete Poetry, Beat Poetry, Black Poetry and Movement Poetry.

John Giorno, August 1972

Read more and hear Dial-A-Poem here.
Ekphrasis and the Other


This article reproduced as part of
the Romantic Circles Electronic Edition of Shelley's "Medusa"
by kind permission of the University of Chicago Press.

"Ekphrasis and the Other" by W. J. T. Mitchell from PICTURE THEORY published by The University of Chicago Press, copyright 1994 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. - book reviews

by Brian Wallis

One of the great themes in Western culture is the contest between word and image. From Leonardo's Paragone through Lessing's Laocoon to the writings of Barthes and Derrida, theorists have struggled to define the different properties of verbal and visual descriptive systems. Seeking ways of distinguishing these systems, some have attempted to disentangle texts from pictures while others have admitted that the two are inextricable. But for many recent critics, this dualistic method of creating categories and granting greater or lesser value to one or the other is itself historically specific, linked to the classificatory modes of modernist ideology. In much postmodern theory about representation, the earlier polarized thinking about words and images has been replaced by a more relativistic approach--one that has resulted in radically decentered and antiformalistic reconsiderations of, among other things, the meaning of realism, authorship and identity. Thus, despite the extensive literature on representation in recent critical theory, the issue is rarely stated--as it is in W.J.T. Mitchell's Picture Theory--in terms of the old word-image dualism. But Mitchell makes a strong case for the argument that this dichotomy is worth revisiting.

Read review.