For someone like you
who works with language
there would be no job
For someone like you
who works with language
there would be no job
This past weekend Carolina and I were in D.C. visiting friends and Carolina’s brother. I’ve always liked D.C. because it’s architecture encourages me to think strangely. And it’s museums often have charged exhibits. Late on Sunday afternoon Carolina, Ben, and his girlfriend, Christina & I visited the Sackler Gallery, which along with the Freer, houses the Asian Art collection of the Smithsonian. On Saturday, another friend of ours, who suggested that we go to the museum, remarked that the Sackler and Freer seemed to him to suffer from an Orientalist tendency, one focused on essentializing Eastern culture - I suppose this could be said about many Asian Art collections.
One of the main exhibits at the Sackler right now is Tsars and the East: Gifts from Iran and Turkey in the Moscow Kremlin. The first thing one sees when walking towards the exhibit is a panel describing and mapping the trade routes from Russia to Iran and Turkey. The relationship between these countries, as pointed out in the exhibit, is one that dates back to the fifteenth century. Near that panel is a Christian icon made from gold and precious stones. On the icon the word “Allah” appears a number of times. For anyone interested in religion this is hardcore syncretism. Within the same room, but on the opposite wall, is a sign thanking all those who made the exhibit possible. The most prominent and important name on that list is Lukoil, the largest oil company in Russia and the second largest company after Exxon-Mobil with proven oil reserves. At this point in the exhibit, it’s abundantly clear, if it wasn’t already, what’s happening: a concerted effort on Russia’s behalf to encourage Americans, as well as any foreign visitors, to recognize the precedence of Russia’s and Iran’s relationship. It’s as if they’re saying, “Look, this is how it has always been. What’s the problem?” Or, as niacINsight, an organization concentrating on the interests of Iranian-American community, puts it, this is Museum diplomacy.
I was happy to discover niacINsight’s positive blog entry about the exhibit as I was preparing my thoughts for this post because I was about to leap to conspiratorial heights! I realize now that’s ridiculous. Lukoil wants us to see their name and Iran associated in this way. It is what it is. So, of course the orchestration is overt, it’s meant to be. To miss the connection is to be naive, I suppose. The word “OIL” has long provoked suspicion in people, so it’s not surprising, to me anyway, that I was about to declare “Conspiracy, conspiracy!” To which all of you could reply, “We know. Where have you been?”
There is obviously much at stake between Russia, Iran, and the United States. Just as the exhibit makes clear, the current tensions between these countries stems from the desire to possess, among many things, permission for trade. The nuclear problem fits right in there tho I don’t know how to address it within the context of this post. Am I already addressing it?
I suppose I am talking about the nuclear to some degree when I think about the idea of Museum diplomacy. As Nikta Hathaway, the author of the niacINsight blog entry, suggests perhaps the “ancient art of diplomacy might be the way of the future. In the times of the Sefavid Shahs and Ottoman Sultans, customized gifts were part of the diplomatic conversation.” Hathaway’s sentiment is similar to what Carolina reminded me of during our lunchtime conversation yesterday. She said that the U.S. isn’t really old enough to know what a long term gift-based trade agreement is like where, by comparison, Russia and Iran know all about it. With Hathaway’s and Carolina’s comments in mind, I think Tsars and the East is an even more fascinating exhibit than I had thought when I first saw it. It’s as if Lukoil (Russia) feels the need to demonstrate that diplomacy is a specific process that can, and perhaps should, involve more than mere trade. It should also incorporate gestures of good will. To return once more to Hathway: “Valuable treasures were presented to political authorities in order to ensure economic and political agendas. The Russian government, in an attempt to improve relations with the US, has made the simple yet powerful gesture of sharing these historic artifacts with the Smithsonian here in DC.” Wow! Is this similar to or different from graft? It’s not graft, so how does one measure whether or not this diplomatic process actually works in modern times? It’s not as if these gifts are in the White House in the way that the Shahs’ and Sultans’ gifts were presented directly to the Kremlin. For instance, does Obama know that there are some serious Middle Eastern artifacts in the Sackler and that they should influence him? Or is the diplomatic gesture directed more at us, the regular people? Is this meant to educate us and/or possibly pacify our potentially conflicted feelings about Russia, Iran, oil, and the nuclear? I don’t know, but for an amateur art and politics junky, I am truly intrigued!
As I said I would in my previous post about Steve Dolph’s work, I am posting selections from Ryan Eckes’ series Old News, which is one of the influences that Dolph cites in his brief statement of process regarding his poem “armed commando pursues and kills man on street.” Like Dolph, Eckes’ poems work with news stories as source material. Though In Eckes’ case the journalism is not current, but it is, by virtue of his poems, contemporary. In other words, Old News tests Ezra Pound’s assertion that “poetry is news that stays news.”
I first heard Eckes read selections from Old News last June at the now partially defunct Robin’s Bookstore. Afterwards, he told me that when he moved into his house a few years ago he discovered a stockpile of Philadelphia newspapers from the 1920’s in his basement and began reading them with fascination.
What immediately strikes me about these poems is the commingling of journalistic brevity with everyday vernacular. This combination naturally pulls irony to the surface, which I think is refreshing in an era when popular culture’s version of irony bombards us. Oftentimes, pop culture leads us to believe that irony isn’t natural and must be produced for us in the form of a sitcom. In turn, this manufactured irony makes it harder to discern true irony when we encounter it. Old News is journalism - objective and informative - but it is journalism written by someone who knows, whether it is 1923 or 2009, what’s at the core of everyday life .
Posted below are pages 16-24 of Old News. If you are interested in more, I highly recommend jumping over to Ryan Eckes’ blog where you can read pages 26-34 as well as listen to selections from the series.
_______________ The Evening Bulletin, Monday, May 7, 1923
‘HANDS UP, BANDIT', SAYS HE, ‘EH! UP YOURSELF', CRIES COP
a postal clerk mistook a policeman for a thug in germantown early today.
"i was on my way home," said Knox, "when i saw a dark figure under the trees."
he drew a revolver and leveled it at the officer, Leary, who seized Knox's wrist
and wrenched away the gun. Knox apologized and explained: "i have been shy of bandits
ever since i was shot in a holdup of a mail wagon at 43d and Woodland a year ago."
in the back of the head
often i imagine a bullet will rip through my head as i'm sitting
by the window at night or walking down the street a fist to the back
of my head, always this small expectation, a stone lodged there
from a single moment in child- hood. what's your background. can
you describe him. every day i'm here for you. i am there for you. every day
out of the corner of my eye the guy in the median of broad street selling
the daily news, "the people's paper." i don't buy it, ever, not for a quarter,
not for my neighbor. my neighbor clara blesses my tree, she blesses my
mailbox, she blesses my railing which she leans on now, smiling
towards a neighbor up the block. does your house have god. what does your
house have. can you see into the eyes of the house. a girl waves behind one
across the street, then closes the blinds. her name escapes me.
i dropped a quarter in walt whitman's cup out front of the serv-rite
hey thanks man, he said biting into his sandwich, slumped against the wall-
what're you irish - irish is good people, man, good people - you irish, aint ya
nah man, i'm american, i said, walking away
well, yr still irish - did you hear me - yr still irish! he called painfully spitting down
the street again, offended, apparently not walt whitman, not walt whitman
The Evening Bulletin, Monday, May 7, 1923
BRIDGE HERMIT STRANGELY KILLED
Refined Recluse Who Never Begged Found on Tracks, Slain or Hit by Train
the "hermit of high bridge" is dead his body was found beside the pennsylvania railroad tracks at wallingford examination disclosed his skull had been crushed, one arm was cut off but otherwise the body was not marked he never begged for food and never asked alms he was always willing to work and when he spent his money it was with economy he was evidently a person of refinement as he spoke english fluently and appeared educated he fitted up his hut comfortably under the bridge with his books, stove, table, lamp and bed he gave his name as george johnson but avoided all inquiries as to his past despite his eccentric ways the hermit held the affection of many people for whom he did odd jobs and gardening townspeople say he had been disappointed in love if he were possessed of wealth his garb did not indicate it he wore clothes ofttimes ragged and unkempt although he was always clean shaven he accepted gratefully the small coins which were the reward of his odd jobs
i have many hearts one's a stick i snap it over my knee
can't help it can't help it
smoke stacks a big school publics you out ironfist pounds a cloud's all you got so what so what
jobs jobs jobs ______________
every 20 minutes
years ago you'd walk 20 minutes in any direction and there'd be another dialect frankie tells rosanna every 20 minutes no matter what direction you walked frankie's tone never changes i can't tell if he laments a more integrated yet homogenized present or if he prefers it he whistles right past me
you said if Bush won the election again we'd move to my country, she said.
i'm not ready to move yet, he said.
if you're not ready now, you'll never be.
i don't know if i can move there. no offense, but your country's pretty racist and classist.
you say the same thing about your country, she said.
it's not the same. this country has essential freedoms that your country doesn't.
such as what?
such as freedom of speech, he said.
we have freedom of speech, she said.
oh yeah, what happens if i protest the government because i disagree with them about something? huh? i disappear, that's what happens. i disappear.
why would you be protesting the government? when do you protest the government here?
the whole way i live my life is a protest.
is it? well, you can live the same way in my country.
you don't understand - look, it's the principle of the matter. i need to know that i have that freedom.
this is why you are spoiled. this is why americans are spoiled.
dredging = jobs duh the walt whitman bridge is no cheaper than the ben franklin lay on the horn all you want camden is poor you know by looking at the dunkin donuts america runs on dunkin the present's not a divider the present's a uniter you know by looking at the dunkin donuts walt whitman is buried in camden ben franklin is buried in philadelphia and the delaware river is a zombie
The Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, May 23, 1923
LOST AND FOUND
LOST - Dog, male, with harness; white with brown spot on face & tail; in centre of city; answers to "Spike."
LOST - Bar pin with sapphires and Baroque pearl, going from 20th and Locust sts. to 12th and Lycoming ave. on Sunday Morning. Reward. LOST - Brindle Bull. White mark neck & face, short tail large eyes. Red collar. Vic. 28 & York. Rew. Spirit- matter. 2230 W. Tioga
LOST - Certificate of Naturalization No. 2, 400, 780. Rew. Agostinho Antonio Barboza. 308 Pemberton st.
LOST - May 22. $50 bill btwn Widener Bldg & Wannamaker Store. Rew.
LOST - Black & tan female puppy. 5 mos. old. name "Gipsy." Rew. 3024 E st.
A couple Sundays ago at L’Etage in the Bella Vista section of Philly, Frank Sherlock had a book party for the release of his first full-length collection, Over Here, published by Factory School, which is one of the true standout presses today. Caroline said, after the reading had finished, that “Frank was like a rock star up there - you could see him thrashing at the guitar.” It was an energetic reading not only for Frank, but also for his reading comrades that evening: Steve Dolph and Sarah Dowling. As Ryan Eckes has pointed out on his blog, this year and next will be fine years for poetry in Philly.
Book parties, I think, are the best version of poetry readings because there is a celebratory feel that is often lacking at what might be called a standard reading (poet reading for the sake of reading to an audience). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to many mind blowing standard readings as well as a few mind numbing book parties. Perhaps I’m running on the high that one gets when one sees one’s friends doing well. Or, maybe I have a point.
At book parties I’ve noticed that everyone talks to each other a bit more, which, if we think about it, is one of the reasons we get together to hear poets read their work. Steve Dolph and I ended up having a great conversation about the last poem that he read. Everything that he had read except for the last poem, which is, or so he says, his first original poem, were translations of Néstor Perlongher work. Steve, who edits the sharp translation journal Calque with Brandon Holmquest, mostly works with translation, but came to translation from fiction writing because he said, “[Fiction writing] often made [him] feel alone.” He wanted to interact more with a text as if he were engaged in conversation. When thinking about writing a poem he said he approached it as if it was a translation because that’s what he’s comfortable with at this point. This is the type of thinking that I appreciate - having a go at something regardless of whether or not you know you can pull it off. What follows is his poem, which derives from Norte, a local newspaper in Ciudad Juárez:
armed commando pursues and kills man on street
7 february 2009
man killed midday yesterday, pursued for several meters by armed commando, it was reported deceased identified as marcelo núñez hernández, 30 years old, body left in road over Díaz Ordaz viaduct near Isla Jazu, in 16 de septiembre neighborhood event reported friday 12:35 pm where corpse of núñez hernández, 30 years old, found face down, reported Zona Norte law enforcement subcommision inspectors found victim with several wounds to both shoulders caused by bullets from a gun at location, crime scene investigation found five .22 caliber casings, embalmed for transfer to ballistic forensics lab for corresponding study corpse moved to medical forensics services where specialists to carry out legal autopsy to establish cause of death, it was reported
Here’s Steve’s statement of process that I extracted from him:
“armed commando” is a condensed translation of a story from Norte, a local paper in Ciudad Juárez–the city immediately across the US/Mexico border from El Paso, Texas–where the scene described is so typical of life in northern Mexico that it’s almost pedestrian. The idea for this kind of thing owes a lot to the late poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño, who catalogues the so-called crimes in northern mexico in the posthumous 2666, and to poet Ryan Eckes, whose Old News series has been an important influence.
What Steve and I ended up coming around to say in our conversation about his poem and process was that it’s crucial for us to find a way to understand the news. If you have a consciousness as well as a conscience - they don’t go hand in hand unfortunately - violent news such as the story that Steve works with provokes, or should provoke, a gut level disgust with how power manifests itself. It’s impossible to respond with aid in all cases or with the writing of a sound journalistic essay that denounces violent crimes. For Steve, “armed commando pursues and kills man on street” becomes his way of wrapping his head around the issue. It’s important to distinguish at this point, too, that I don’t think Steve’s rendition of this news story aims to capitalize on the drama of the armed commando, rather it’s a flat out critique that perhaps rings more loudly because he’s shifted his consciousness into the position where he can fathom the news. In a sense, his process makes the news more accessible on an individual level. All of this gets back to why Steve said he first turned to translation: he wanted his interactions with text to feel more like conversations. Typically, we read the news, but do not interact with it. We talk about the news, which is quite different and quite removed from what Steve is up to. I think Steve’s poem is a fruitful exercise that should move beyond mere exercise and into actual project.
In the next day or so I will post some of Ryan Eckes’ Old News - please stay tuned.
The crush of consonants
in Tom Daschle & the open
vowels of John Yau have
got me thinking of Mary Ann
Caws who says “Poetry can be
any damn thing it wants”
The treaty of 1868
We are not alone in a room
Being alone is anarchy
I’m certain the mice are
in the ceiling
A bomb instead of a drawing
It snowed last night
The sun today a postscript
If what we remember is
aberration how come I
remember all the dull moments
leading up this gorgeous
feeling of being done
Last night Sueyeun Juliette Lee had a book release party for her new book That Gorgeous Feeling at Higher Grounds Coffee Shop in Northern Liberties, officially one of the oldest suburbs in the country though by today’s standards it certainly wouldn’t strike one as a suburb. It was an enjoyable evening.
A few weeks ago Juliette asked friends if they would write an occasional poem for the event and many of us responded in kind. It was a fine night of poetry that built and built with poems and poems until Juliette read work from her new book and a work in progress (I can’t remember the title, but I do know that her chapbook Mental Commitment Robots is included in the work in progress). The poem above is the occasional poem that I wrote for the party.
Earlier in the day I had gone to listen to a panel on drawing that John Yau was moderating at UArts. On the panel: Joan Waltemath, Molly Dougherty , Simon Frost, and Kim Deitch. I appreciate listening to artists talk about process and materials because they talk about tools, color, and attention in ways that poets rarely do. My poem stole lines of dialogue from the panel’s participants - an approach (stealing people’s conversational lines) that I’ve been getting into lately. Ted Berrigan says he likes to beat people up throughout The Sonnets. I suppose I like to steal people’s lines because people say beautiful and complicated things all the time! Language is material and it is there in “physio-aural” form once someone speaks. I suppose I want to heighten my attention as I move about the day so I listen and write down phrases. Or, is it that the poem wants to heighten my attention? I think when Caws writes that “[p]oetry can be any damn thing it wants” it’s crucial that the agency is not in the person (the poet), but the poem.