Better Than Language (2011 Anthology)
by Michael Peverett
I've said at one time or another that I don't like anthologies, but that doesn't mean I don't buy them and read them. The latest to arrive is Better than Language, Chris Goode's gathering of thirteen poets who are keeping the winter alive around London. (There's something paradoxical in my constantly encountering Chris, who is so identified in my mind with performative poetics and inter-art miscegenations, in such traditionally reader-oriented contexts as, well, introducing a poetry anthology. It's not his fault that his blog makes such compulsive reading, but it sure does blur the message!) One of the things about anthologies that I don't like is that it encourages commentators to make sweeping statements about the cultural scene, to talk about a new generation and to compare them with previous bunches of alt-poets during the heroic era. And nearly always that comparison is going to be unfavourable because of built-in assumptions around the past, i.e. because Bob Cobbing and Bill Griffiths are fucking gods. (I do mean that.) Whereas, you know, these guys have uni degrees and drink lattes and have iPhones. Probably. And they're still alive, too. But this kind of cultural commentary is all too easy. Reading Anna Ticehurst, Francesca Lisette, Jonny Liron, Linus Slug, Steve Willey and the rest is not quite such a stroll in the park. I am at the stage of coming to terms with it. I don't know if it is interesting to see my initial notes: the problem with publishing such notes is they get taken seriously as judgmental statements when they ought to get taken seriously as market research data: but I want to post this while the book is still new. And there are no gimmes here, so I've got to risk being stupid. It's exciting to realize how many of these poets have appeared in Intercapillary Space at one time or another (click on the links).
Anna Ticehurst - nothing on the surface of these poems, all in the intense detail of the statement; prose dismissed as "a greasy parlando", which gives you some indication of her poetry's sensuous intelligence: e.g. transposition of melody-lines, the rubbing of cheeks, the shape of Kinder Eggs, each sensually realized; these become the components of the statement, which always inhabits a compromised social structure, e.g. a tweezed eyebrow pleasantly compared to the fringe of a shanty-town along the manicured horizon of leisure.
Francesca Lisette "Casebook" proposes the form of a Patient/Doctor dialogue: i.e. just where dialogue is especially problematic in both directions, so it immediately turns into a non-comprehension aria. Favourite line: "if answer could be detached like sprats in a blanket, care only for the open woods of history". See also: Edmund Hardy's note.
Joe Luna - How to reconcile the solidity and the breadth of his other work with the apparently delimited fragility of these poems of love, friendship and absence: what is that saying to us, seemingly in reproof? "if yes subtends a sharp declension metered out to that best part where we possess more brutal happiness or as we sleep sequestered wet reload" (breaks omitted). Within this mortar lies R136a1 and a furnace of god-making, and yet we are only talking about it; that, or something like it, seems to be the paradox contained in the poem's "if".
Jonny Liron - as you might anticipate, this is the most committedly performative work here, in fact it's impossible to read this without being invaded by the sense of a performance going on inside and in front of you. (FL titles her poem "for performance" but that only emphasizes what a readerly place we're coming from.) Some people take "performative" as code for "only bears reading once": that isn't what I mean to imply here; a second reading in fact opened a few blooms across the blustery field.
Josh Stanley 2 3 4 He writes about Earth and Heaven (but not really), and I rate his stuff, it feels very open to dense reality. I'm not doing in depth commentary here, but Peter Larkin showed what can come out of that in his review of Stanley's Glogy.
Jonty Tiplady - In the Introduction Chris Goode wrote a bit about "synth pop": Jonty Tiplady is the best fit for the "pop" part of that equation. His poems are smart and shiny and play through pop culture, and they are pop culture. The first time in the book that I suddenly remember about the existence of John Ashbery. Postmodernism is where 20th century poetry begins. (What used to be called Modernism - first-generation Modernism, I suppose - doesn't interest me half so much: just a sickly offshoot of Edward Dowson. What happened in the 1960s is a much more pressing issue for me than what happened in 1910.)
Linus Slug - gets thoroughly filthy in "FrassBuik", but also elegant; elegant too are the "ninerrors" included here, blotted and dotted nine-line scenes of remarkable extent. (By this stage in the book, comparative immunity to Sussex/Cambridge influence begins to definitely feel like something I value.)
Mike Wallace-Hadrill - Sequence "Oxytocin Nasty" in 14 linked poems, generally playing out neurotransmitter, chemical, mind-altering material with milk and reward system and brutality. The kind of poem where you have to Google most of it to get started, in other words it is made of names not descriptions, but this does produce a very clean and unwavering line.
Nat Raha Serpentine and other Romantic structures and collages with broken-unlimited access-all-areas language; Pindaric Odes made of serial nos, season cycles, chemicals, tableaux, waterways. See also: Edmund Hardy's review of NR's Octet.
Sarah Kelly bent intimate short lines, weight and heat shadows. Engraved, eroded, no titles left. Nothing left but the sound, the joyous and aching sound: "to compare our / fahrenheits / our barrens and our / heights our dusts and / driveways".
Steve Willey - with "Slogans" we turn a corner and unexpectedly come face to face with Content in its most up-close bristling troubling aspect and Layout in its most directly eloquent mode. Poet of huge resource, and to that extent feeling timeless. His first poem has the stylishness (though not the manner) of Cobbing, his second evinces London poetry's submerged links with old Objectivism and new Conceptualism.
Timothy Thornton - Read the first page and a half and his power of narrative momentum is plain; astonishingly the persuasive grip of this argument persists while we move through poems where the text becomes progressively torqued - or should I say "tocked"? Thornton creates narrative by the eloquently simple means of ratcheting up the tension with "tock" and releasing it with "ah". And the argument creates space because it composes a landscape made out of both the repetitions and non-repetitions of nature.
Tomas Weber - impossible to say something about his selection in a few lines, so instead I'll talk about large bovines, with which two or more of these poems are connected. "Frigorifico at Fray Bentos" is one of them, fairly obviously; more tenuously "Lakes of the Rub' al Khali" refers to the poignantly ephemeral lakes of that desert, 5-10,000 years ago, once inhabited by long-horned cattle and water buffalo. More tenuously still, "Song of the Big Five" might refer to the "Big Five" dangerous game-animals that members of Safari Club International dream about trophying. The Cape Buffalo is the least endangered of these but also the most dangerous to hunters. The American Bison is arguably the most dangerous animal in the USA; it is curious to reflect that most wild stock contains an admixture of genes from domestic cattle. Human relations with bovines are an inescapably political subject.
Better Than Language: an anthology of new modernist poetries is published by ganzfeld (ISBN: 978-0-9563706-1-7).
Famous Plays of 1931
From a series of compilations published by Gollancz, beginning in 1929 with Famous Plays of Today, then continuing more or less annually until 1938-39 (and, anomalously, 1954).
1. The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolf Besier. The scene is the same throughout: as the author archly remarks in the headnote, this comedy took place in Elizabeth Barrett's room in 1845. It portrays her long-postponed meeting and romance with an irresistibly buoyant Robert Browning, the recovery of her health and spirits, and finally her escape from the repellent emotional blackmail of her ultra-disciplinarian father, an almost-insane Victorian paterfamilias whose relationship with her late mother, it's eventually revealed, had declined into long-term marital rape (Mr Barrett is the descendant of characters such as Soames Forsyte in The Man of Property (1906), and the Reverend Gregorius in Hjalmar Söderberg's Doktor Glas (1905)). This was Besier's only hit. Film adaptation in 1934. (Above, Basil Rathbone as Browning, in the 1933-34 tour of Katherine Cornell's US version, which converted Besier's five-act structure into a more convenient three acts.)
2. The Improper Duchess, by J.B. Fagan. Set in Washington D.C, and concerned with oil negotiations with the imaginary kingdom of Poldavia during the "next" presidency. The sprightly and resourceful duchess, mistress of the King, uses her charms to overturn a plot to wreck the negotiations by invoking puritanical US laws. (The King's hunting forest is sold as a valuable oil concession, apparently to the joy of all; a story-line that today can only prompt sombre reflections on Ecuador's unprecedented negotiations to try and preserve rainforest from the oil industry.) Film adaptation in 1936.
3. To See Ourselves, by E.M. Delafield. Caroline's marriage to Freddie, papermill owner in Devon, has gone stale; a visit by her sister and fiancé, themselves hoping to avoid the same dismal prospect, shakes it up. E.M Delafield was a prolific novelist who touched on social and feminist issues; upper-middle class, unconventional, entered a convent in her youth but eventually rebelled, still slightly remembered for "Diary of a Provincial Lady".
4. After All, by John van Druten. Play about the generation gap, in widely-spaced scenes covering a six-year period. Mr and Mrs Thomas have tried to bring up their son and daughter in a liberal and confiding spirit, but are dismayed to find that each feels stifled by the family home and is intent on moving out. By the end of the play (the parents now dead), the younger generation are showing signs of reverting to respectability, at the same time as they discover that their parents in earlier times were also forced to make a stand for freedom. Anyone now who reads the first two acts will take it for granted that young Ralph is gay (as John van Druten himself was), but in deference to the times his high-maintenance partner eventually steps forth in female form.
5. London Wall, also by John van Druten. Set in a lawyer's office, but focussed on the admin staff rather than the lawyers; in particular, registering the relative novelty of women in the workplace. The innocent, pretty Pat manages (just) to escape the sexually-predatory Brewer, the office manager. Meanwhile Miss Janus, after ten years in office-work, still unmarried and at the desperate age of 36, walks out to a life of freedom, insecurity and loneliness.
6. Autumn Crocus, by C.L. Anthony. Wistful Alpine romance in which for 24 hours Fanny, a lonely teacher in her mid-thirties, snatches at Life (in the form of the warm-hearted innkeeper Andreas, unfortunately already married) before reluctantly giving way to the sad compulsions of practicality, realism, respectability, etc. Sentimental, yes; yet perhaps I won't be the only reader to be reminded, just a little, of Káťa Kabanová. Light relief supplied by Alaric and Audrey, a hearty Kraft-Ebbing / Slade School couple who earnestly inform all the other guests about their non-marital relations. This was Dodie Smith's first play and it was a success; her pseudonym was soon cracked by journalists ("Shopgirl Writes Play!"). Film adapation in 1934. Like Fanny, Dodie Smith came from rainy Manchester. In later years she wrote (among other things) the fondly-remembered middlebrow novel I Capture the Castle(1949) and a children's story called The Hundred and One Dalmatians(1956).
These six popular plays build a fascinating picture of a moment in history, perhaps even a unique moment. Every one of these plays, even Fagan's Duchess, reflects and contributes to society-wide debate about the role of women, emancipation, a new model of relationships, family and society. A subsidiary theme in most of the plays is registering a plea for LIFE from (or at any rate on behalf of) dreary, Life-starved existences - women's lives, principally. Well, I said a unique moment. One key date is probably this: in the UK, universal suffrage for all adults over 21 years of age was not achieved until 1928 (1918 introduced votes for women, but only those aged over thirty, along with other restrictions). Another is the screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail in July 1929 - the first British talkie (though like most transitional films the sound was added later). There remained a timelag before the social impact of sound movies really started to erode areas recently occupied by theatre. But inexorably it happened. Today, the most direct line of descent from such plays as these, i.e. combining broad popularity with social debate, leads to EastEnders.
Chekhov complained about the difficulty of avoiding the pistol-shot. It's interesting that in these plays there is not a single death from any but natural or accidental causes. Detectives, policemen, mystery crimes, are entirely absent. That may be an unrepresentative curiosity of selection (perhaps Gollancz only went for relatively high-minded plays), but it's striking in contrast to our own cop-sated schedules.
Speaking of Gollancz prompts another observation: these plays were evidently, in part, intended for reading, and were read. Descriptions of scenery are elaborate; the physical appearance of the characters is described; stage directions are often novelistic rather than functional, aimed at a reader not an actor. Rudolf Besier describes Elizabeth Barrett's room by quoting one of her letters. "C.L. Anthony" even suppresses the usual cast-list with its names and explanations of relationships, instead referring enigmatically to "The Lady in the button-up boots", etc. This seems to be for the reader's benefit, i.e. because the usual sort of cast-list would give away too much of the plot.
In contrast, movie screenplays have never sold particularly well in book form. I suppose this is partly because it's easier to see a new film than a new play; Gollancz could anticipate a provincial market for these volumes. But the main reason is that moviemakers, from their silent outset, invented fluid narratorial styles that were not so dependent on language. And linguistic high-jinks went off to the musicals.
from A Brief History of Western Culture
By Alex Davies
from Jon Wild & The Devil Himself
Each brick in his castle is a rotten apple. He chases his
bricks past important stone. Three of them tonight, a
bountiful hunt. He pauses at the sack of a corner and
listens and alights on barefoot foot falls, that familiar
scramble like a two-foot spider and the stink of manure
and lacking worth ethic what the ostensibly privileged
scum believe is their true preserve. Wild dances through
the streets, kicking off Basinghall Ave. round the
Armourers & Brasiers, tracing the London wall and then
spilling down through Moorgate with all the swine
gobbling the garbage and the blisters on ankles. Left
over Great Swan Alley (he’s shit better) curling round
Copthall Ave, then a dogleg into Austin Friars where the
fuckers squabble trapped against a far wall.
! There are three toe-rags. One sniffs in fear as a
rat, head shaking, sinking into his collar bone. The other,
the tallest, hold straight, chest out like a smartened
soldier, emboldened in captivity. The third shrinks away,
calm, and Wild catches a glint in the moonlight and
recognises this perpetrator as the denominator. With no
short pluck he takes a deep breath.
‘I arrest you on behalf of Her Majesty.’
‘You and whose army?’ said the bold sod.
Wild advanced into the cavity.
‘Close listen in now, lads. I have on me no gun
metal, no striking iron or any kind, nor are my knuckles
dusted. But I’ve in me guile, and the right-hand of the
Under Marshal, and no small amount of aggression and
wit. I know my strengths. Do you know your
‘Fuck off molly!’ cried the rat.
‘I am both a servant of and in service to His
Majesty, and so I know his kingdom. Do you? Do you
know that behind you the wall you frantically dig at has
stood as the wall of an insignificant bank for longer than
my twenty years has stood me? Do you know the
infallibility of the pound in this town? You’re trapped, lads.
Come quickly and quietly and I’ll have nothing but
sympathies for you. I’ve shared that hole and I’m still
sharing it, though I’m wise to digging myself a tunnel with
no brick wall at the end of it. Now, come along.’
! A dog barked and caught his attention. When
Wild turned back, the shining blade was gone, hidden in
darkness, and only the soldier and rat remained. Quite
suddenly aware of the acute darkness around him, he
wished for whiskers, or a web, and found only a blade
wrapped round his throat at an acute angle as his foe
oblonged him via a concealed pathway. He jabbed at the
pitched black as the other two rushed him, punched him,
the land theirs a guttural blow put upon the plexus. His
surroundings turned to wash, blurring, tumbling, as down
he went under the force of a blow to the jaw, his spine
collapsing under the clap of a kick.
He lay cheekdown on the paving, yielding blow
upon blow, the trio screaming bloodlust, drowning out the
distant wait of Hitchens’ whistle. Pushing up on his arms,
his assailants cavorting around him, the hyenas cackling
with maniacal rage around their defeated prey, he turned
on all-fours and wailed, her face distorted behind
forgotten beatings, blood and sweat and tears
superimposed, belts and buckles and dented knuckles.
Again and again the kicks impaled him, stones driven
through his wrists and ankles, a leather horse ripening
like a black banana rotting in the smog. His left eye
swelled shut, pocketed in the darkness, this entryism
fugue departed upon him.
His other eye held well against the barrage,
though tearful and scared, and it was through the bottom
of the beer glass he saw a pair of eyes light candles in an
abattoir, aflame orange red white. So bright yet no light
leaked into the surroundings meant they hovered there,
in air, lighting not but themselves. The stainless steel rat,
now wielding the shank, saw them first, and weaselled
right scared across the bow of the soldier, and in making
his escape ran the knife along the soldier’s hamstring,
who screamed and tore at the rat’s ankle until they both
had fallen. All this left the quiet one standing. Wild rolled
on his back, coughing blood up his nose, barely able to
see, a bare boxer knuckled, where the quiet one met his
gaze. Here was petulant fear and when he spoke his
voice cracked its own bravado,
‘You got the devil on your side.’
He twisted into the shadows, his feet skidding
down the pathway as he made his escape. The soldier
and the rat moaned on each other. Wild turned his good
eye to his forehead. Above the line of his scalp he saw
the flames given form. A giant of a man, biceps black
flexed like he had fallen through Pandemonium and
found the City and evidently liked what he saw, his mouth
contorted and making a fiendish smile that distended his
jaw and compacted his perfect ebony teeth, his thick dark
hair slicked wet back over his head meeting a pointed
beard the length of a finger. Through blown glass he lent
over Wild, so his down was his up and his up was his
down, and his beard pointed to his scalp and his eyes
pointed to his teeth. His breath reeked of ammonia. He
wheezed as if asthmatic, or forever laughing. Then he
whinnied, and jumped frantically on the spot above Wild’s
head, making the soldier and the rat scream and cry for
their mothers. Then he danced a pirouette, and alighted
at Wild, and fingered his nostril and tasted his finger and
laughed. When he laughed, it shook Wild’s broken teeth.
Then he leaned so close Wild was sure of an embrace,
or a deviated kiss, then a long umber finger topped with
an black inch nail pressed on Wild’s lips, and he tasted
burnt tyres and liquorice.
Removing his finger he pranced to the soldier and the
rat, at all times affixing Wild’s tattered glare. He squatted,
and the moonlight picked out bare hairy thigh, thick and
tangled as pubis, as he took the head of the screaming
soldier in his hands and cavitation it as a firework airs.
The rat had a fit, turning on to his belly, scrambling for
escape. Into the impossible pit he crawled, a corner of
ultimate darkness, while he presided over him and he
watched a blur. Both into the cul-de-sac. Wild had heard
nothing of its kind, as if the very air had been made to
scream, a man sat upon a throne of pain, neutered,
tickle the fickle pickle chef itching in his kitchen,
get doss wankered by the roundaboob on
duty scarbou-rough as gafook,
lick moll atone-cranked boss me on the bent
over desk tidy gafook like ram diddle punch,
prick all the nipples in-vest in mir
satisfactory gook, king gafooked! gafooked
latitudinous tudorish, gratuity on park
bench fellatio, chess move en passent prude-lark,
vidi-doll-blah-blah-ripple-king ash hole
blue rudy bless zing tintin anaesthequiff
zippo, ring bells poker tells ditty full roundhouse
norris chucks bowl do-impales harpoon
wales, merthyr-bangor, merthyr-focker,
twin-prop clucks mallard fever gel,
frocked green face painted, sly bottle feather indicator
genevieve donks under weather,
prynne-gull pop stop corpse via single verb
A Poem by Amy Cutler
"Nothing that's quite your own": Vanessa Place Interviewed
Interview by Edmund Hardy
Photo credit: Alex Forman
"Vanessa Place killed poetry." (Anon., via Twitter)
Vanessa Place writes poetry, prose and art criticism; she is also a criminal lawyer and co-director of Les Figues Press. Her most recent work is available in French as Exposé des Faits, and in English as Statement of Facts, Statement of the Case, and Argument (Blanc Press 2010-2011). A work of non-fiction, The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and Law, was published by Other Press in 2010 and Notes on Conceptualisms, with Robert M. Fitterman, by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2009. A full bibliography is at EPC.
"Vanessa Place is writing terminal poetry." (Rae Armantrout)
EH: The idea of the 'infra thin' seems crucial to your body of work – Duchamp's list of infra-thins; sameness as production; equivalences; those moments when the distance between writer and material becomes threadbare. How do you think of the infra-thin? Is this one way in which "The medium is the meeting point"? (Notes on Conceptualisms)
VP: And the meeting point is the medium: in this way, all that is is the infra-thin, that Venn diagram of time and space in which a kind of communication fails at utterly failing. Just as production is sameness, and there is no meaningful difference between writer and material, or between materials. Differently and similarly put, I make no distinction between the stuff I make and the stuff I take, and eventually, all that there will be of me are these places in which the infra-thin of "Vanessa Place" exists.
(Proust being now "Proust," for example, as well as "Proustian." Which he may also have been then.)
EH: The talk on Echo and your Statements of Fact publication speak of the 'infra thin' of violence, "if the phoneme is the infra-thin distinction between statements, the infra thin of violence is its meaningless facticity" – the statements of fact in this work seem to show very clearly that this is is without moral end. In this mimesis, is there a power you find of freedom ("idiotic literality"), in the sense of freedom being a fact of reason which is seized only by appropriation?
VP: Yes. Though the fact of reason is unreasonable, as noted. However poignant.
EH: Why did you decide to follow the 3 parts of an appellate brief for your Tragodia?
VP: The three or triology is a typology common to multiple forms of rhetoric, not the least of which are evidenced in Christianity, psychoanalytic theory, and legal argument. The form of the epic is of great interest to me, most famously Dante's, which provides the contrapuntal template for Tragodia. First, the terrible narrative, that which exists famously without hope save for its context. ("Con" is important in this.) Second, the procedural place, where the Real is transitioned, like blood encased as sausage, into the Symbolic via the law of the case. Third, the grander order, where the music of the spheres plays on. Which is most overtly a rhetorical argument, like poetry. There are some surface similarities, such as 33 cantos per volume, such as the allegorical turn and the turnabout being fair play. Too, there is the notion of the mysteries that must remain mysterious in both divine and secular law. Though allegory is less material than materiality in Tragodia, Just as just is justice in Dante but not in Place, just as a tragedy is just a story of suffering told for others' entertainment.
EH: I'm interested in how quotidian details in institutional or brutal settings seem to flash or connect outwards – for example in a footnote on page 16 of Statement of Facts, "Appellant testified he was not a chef but a 'worker' with pastries". Do you recognise this kind of 'flash' as a reader yourself? And how do textual details figure in conceptualism as allegory?
VP: The detail is always immaterial. The detail is always proof, therefore, of immateriality. The detail is also the punctum, the point at which rank pointlessness is made manifest. Naturally, this becomes the point seized upon—the point of recognition, of communion—for meaning-making. Thus, the Real becomes Symbolic. Note the lack of preposition. The allegorical imperative of conceptualism is only procedural.
EH: You write of rape as "irresistibly symbolic" (The Guilt Project) – to this extent, Statements of Fact works with irresistible material for poetry, or the irresistibly immaterial, only perhaps to try to puncture this history with pointlessness manifest? How do you relate to the history of rape in literature – is this a necessary reflective break?
VP: It is a necessary reflective extension. Possibly a terminus, if we are very lucky.
The difficulty is to continuously invite meaning while always avoiding meaning-making. To be a cogito-tease. Though again it should be noted, that in Statement of Facts, for the first time in poetry, a rape is a rape is a rape.
EH: The search for what is could be traced through different poetics – at each point conditioned by ideological and historical structures. Is it that the this is this is this has to be continually reinvented, so the history of lyric poetry is also in part the echoing history of these attempts, or do you think there was a 'break' at some point, say with Stein, a truer peeling back to materiality / immateriality and surface, or has something else happened?
VP: Epistemic contextualism is embedded in every material form insofar as that form is the product of both an articulation and a reception. That said, repetition (which may or may not differ from appropriation) provides an optimal site for reinvention via reception in a way that its thick-thumbed cousin may not. Put another way, this may be a matter of valence: the lyric tells you now to think about then now, the now coming after the then; the conceptual is you now, thinking you now.
Stein had something to do with this, though so did Schwitters.
EH: How did Arthur Golding's Ovid 'change everything'? Are there 'sobjects' in procedural loops to be found there?
VP: Nothing but. This is properly a dissertation; my response will be stupidly reductive. But to itemize some saliencies: there is the metamorphosis within Ovid itself, where essence mutates via existence to betray both the immutable nature of essence itself and its potential mutation (as a sidebar example, consider the way in which the language used in transgendering often assumes a core gender identity, so that while the corporeal fact of gender is capable of metamorphosis, its internality, its fundament, is more fixed; i.e., there is something called a "woman" that one can become or already is—i.e., woman exists, although we all know that she does not); there is the metamorphosis of poetic narrative or narrative poetry and the nesting-dolls of re-told tales that enact the shifting repetitions within the vignettes themselves, often to contrary ends; there is the way that the discursive is all that there is (metamorphosis as variations on an ongoing theme, not unlike all repetition and difference); there is the Christian metamorphosis enacted on Ovid by Golding (in which the notion of the eternal return becomes something else entirely, or maybe); there are the, as you note, "procedural loops" played repeatedly throughout –god rapes human, human becomes something other than god or human, something with an essentially object nature, which is how rape rends its subjects, something with an essentially subject nature, which is why it is rape. As I have noted elsewhere, the one unchanging fact is that all gods rape. The bothersome bit in this is that we make all gods.
EH: Your book 'The Guilt Project' is focused on how to make justice meaningful, through its being applied – actually and not just in name – to all, including "the daddy who rapes his son". This would seem self-evident but seldom in evidence. You focus on sex cases which serve as "conceptual weak links". Could you say more about how these cases are weak links, and how they specifically relate to a failure of the idea of the 'public' in the face of a 'privatization' in law?
VP: We tend to look at law like medicine, in the way of the applicability of taxonomies, etiologies, and cures, though the latter is far more singular in the law. That is to say, law is only (may only be) proscriptive, not pre-. As negation is its base, negation is its remedy. Negation of time in a sentence, negation of life in a capital (US) offense. Long sentences being death, as I've said before, on the installment plan. That said, like medicine, or, for that matter, like any narration, or meta-narrative, law is a louche beast. The entire job of the law (as noted) is to stuff ooze into prefabricated forms, to take unwieldy facts and act as if they are, like fiction, calculable, disposable in the sense of consumed by its functional use. The weak link is the case that exposes the inutility of the legal process qua processing plant, where ontology meets the dérive. I.e., that this disposability is not a question of utility or perfect consumption (facts in, law out) but rather of immateriality, the writing-off of what can't be written (raising the question whether it is the law itself that is the excrescence, or its undigested bits). The public pretends, or must believe, and arguably rightly so, that this misfit has got nothing to do with them, that laws come pat, like bricks of butter. The privatization of law—emblematized by the goddish ascent of scientific evidence and the apostolate expert—or, depending on one's mood, the view of victimization as a private phenomenon with a group explanation—simply avoids the horror of this. So that in all this, there is no public in the sense of no witness. Which is where poetry, also stupidly, comes in.
EH: You also talk of a responsibility to "calculated mercy" which seems to be a kind of hospitality, ineluctably political – set against a false politicisation of guilt. Part of this responsibility is to act towards 're-individualising', as individuals facing ourselves. I read this as a kind of humanism? Is this also a moral case for mimesis in writing?
VP: I would say a radical mimesis, fully frontal. Where there is scant pleasure in transgression, and no tenable arc. Where the rhythms are dull and desperate, and there's no redemption save bottles and cans. This is not a moral case, but rather a brutal ethics. Put in its crudest and most revealing terms, it would require faecal fidelity as such. My most humanistic gesture is thus my devotion to Wikipedia.
EH: So it follows that your 'futurepoem' entry, which is I think a copy of the Wikipedia definition of poetry circa April 2010, is for you literally "poetry" as well as a gesture of humanism?
VP: I submitted a Wikipedia entry on Poetry to the futurepoem book contest because it is the poetry of tomorrow today (the day of its web-gleaning), because it is the poetry of the people, the true channelling of the modernist meld of quote and quotidian, hi and lo Kunstwerk, the postmodern polyvocality and attempted post-colonial consciousness, but mostly because it is entirely poetry, nothing but. The history and purpose of the entire medium, complete with pictures. In fact, it is the greatest book of poetry ever written. Containing, as it does, all poetry and all poetic possibility. For isn't poetry the universal art of the mind, the true mirror of the real nature of the world and life, nearer to vital truth than history, the most powerful of all the arts. One should always be a poet, even in prose.
EH: Your mention of "faecal fidelity as such" reminds me of Mary Kelly's Post-Partum Document – intersubjectivity reflected through acts of archiving. With its use of Lacan's diagrams and its mimesis, has Kelly's work been important to you?
VP: Kelly is a model of theory + praxis; she once beautifully concisioned: "Well, language is culture, right?"
EH: Your artist's statement for the text object Die Dichtkunst finishes by quoting an answer in a quote from a quote, ending with the idea of wresting from helplessness a faint "and yet" – does this relate language to the infinite, to its own failure? How does lyric poetry reach or embody "and yet"?
VP: By persisting in its pathetic and ridiculous attempts at ongoingness and ontology. As if sunrises or sunsets had significance. And yet—
EH: As a criminal appellate defense attorney ("I represent indigent sex offenders and sexually violent predators, all on appeal from felony convictions in the State of California"), you state that – answering a common question put to you – you don't or can't live with yourself. I can imagine that the next question would be, Where do you live?
VP: Many places.
EH: Beckett wrote that "we have our being in justice I have never heard anything to the contrary" – what do you think?
EH: I'm interested in your tweets and Facebook status updates – finding new meeting points which online publishing methods open out. They also allow for new kinds of publication-duration. What attracts you to these mediums?
VP: Primarily that they are unstable mediums. Like sculptures made of lard, they give the appearance of solidity or some sort of existence, but they do not exist. Or rather their existence is wildly contingent. More contingent, it seems (and I hope) than paper. Of course, the Gone With the Wind twitter project depends on a certain amount of contingent failure, while the facebook project is a bit of an homage to Fénéon, which implies clerical fidelity.
EH: Only the erasing hand can write – erasure seems to literally enact what all writing does?
VP: Pace Rauschenberg viz de Kooning. That's a tip.
EH: You've produced several different works from the text of Gone With the Wind and its master / slave discourses. Through these returns you seem to be developing a poetics of the slave's discourse of which you write, a poetics of the "kernel of excess" – an "empearling". What if, though, the existence of a surplus is the very form of the power relationship itself, guaranteeing and structuring it?
VP: Could it be any other way?
EH: Possibly by misunderstanding the "enveloping third", the "open reflection" in your argument as a path towards autonomy in language, or even the thought of an outside?
VP: Possibly. But wouldn't this trigger in turn another closure, and another opening? Perhaps the more personal point is that I'm more interested in this ongoingness than in the prospect of overcoming.
EH: If, as a formal medium, conceptualism's own allegorising of the allegorical encompasses the failure of language, and knows itself as nothing, can conceptual writing fail (and not triumphantly, perhaps finding, instead of too much, too little?) – or "to put it another way", can it do anything other than embody failure?
VP: I hope not. Failure is its own reward. For only through failure is there hope of trying again. And then failing again. Though unlike Beckett, I wouldn't advocate failing better. Fail worse. Try harder.
EH: Your book La Medusa seems to take a human brain as its mise-en-scène, its concept is the identity of world and brain. I'm tempted to see the brain here as another infra thin – a membrane between two exchangeable forces, the inside and outside, the book preceding like a glance from within the skull of one encountered. In this it seems like your most purely Lacanian book?
VP: That's it. Thus far. And thus all tied up in the language of itself.
EH: Is a "sobject" a kind of knot?
VP: Yes. Kind as in nature. If we grant that Lacan was foisting a conceptual structure on the Real for purposes of fashioning his three-way knot of the subject, and that while this structure was absolutely necessary for imagining the knotted self, it was not in the least appropriate as any kind of representation of the Real itself, then "sobject" would be that kind of knot. Or could be. Personally, I see it more as a bleed. Something slithering.
EH: Justice is that which has to be rendered?
VP: Like fat.
EH: What's 'dumb materiality'?
VP: Dumb materiality is the site where the surface is so opaque that it becomes purely reflective. "UUUUUUUUU" e.g., or "3838383838383838383."
Dumb materiality is contrapuntal to the baroque; this implies shared secondary qualities and the mandate (or at least the argument) of a larger textural and figural corpus, some manner of cantus firmus. Hanne Darboven is a breath-taking model of this. As was Malevich, and, for what seemed to be a period of throat-clearing, Rauschenberg.
EH: I wanted to ask you about nothing – you write that conceptualism "offers a formal medium to enact the possibility and impossibility of testimony, of ontology itself." Possibly true, impossibly grounded in witness, you state that testimony "frees everything from the contingency of time and place, order and location." Why is the poetry here in a state of perpetual ontology, though?
VP: Because it can never cease being insofar as being is always becoming. Badiou said something about being meaning being-said, but this seems wrong in terms of tense. Being meaning being-saying, though we don't have a suitably elegant infinitive. Why retinal poetry is so popular is that it says something about saying as building at the same time it is saying something else. Why biographies are so believable is that we want to believe that articulation is found in nature, like a well-cut clavicle. Conceptual poetry exists in a futur anterior, so that any saying includes the contingency of being-said as being-saying. I'm making another knot here, but that's also part of the point. I wrote a piece on Lady Gaga in which I cast her as the perfect screen—not the Warholian silver screen of projection, but the computer screen of sculpted projection/reflection. A matter of affinities and metonymies. Like the sobject. Being being in progress, not progression.
Nothing is often used as a antagonym. Which also suits being.
EH: The existence of conceptual poetry in the future perfect suggests this loop: a needful faux originary archaeology or prehistory of the present moment's spectral afterlife – how does this situate the temporality of the texts in progress, being-saying? How is time fed through dumb materiality?
VP: Rather endlessly and not at all. These kinds of works often bear no markers of time that is of any significance, that is to say they are not situated in any meaningful textual fashion, which allows them to maintain their position as a site for something, such as a future reading, pondering, or ignoring. The only time that serves as fodder is future as fixed and unfixed. This invokes, in turn, connotations and conditions of imminence and immanence.
EH: Lady Gaga as the mouldable lack of affect – presenting allegories of allegories? Which leads me to the question of how allegory and history cross in any historiography with brute materialism as its knot – the ordering and organising of the past and the production of the future caught up in these reinscription machines?
VP: Not so much how, but how come. Not so much past, but recent past, the venir de, the "just" –another play on words—not so much future, but future perfect, which is a separate thicket. I've said before (and after) that it's not the allegory of something but the allegory of, and there the sentence ends. Thus there is no melancholy, just facticity. Maybe status. With luck, updates.
EH: It's fun to think that everything out there expatiates even while I do this, type on a screen. Then we would just have to 'tap in'. Goldsmith's choice of Brooklyn Bridge poems, and your piece on this event, almost seems to valorise this expatiation by proxy – poetry as machine, though deadly, or playful. Is there a kind of inverse Platonism creeping in here, though, in the "no ontology beyond facticity" line - thing-as-thing, the shadows exist and throw back the idea of ontological forms? Can machine poems process themselves?
VP: These two questions are unrelated. I would put a small slice on top of your shadow, however, so that the shadow is the shadow-image of something that remains unseen but for the idea of the form cast by the shadow. Just as the light in Rembrandt's Raising of Lazarus comes not from The Light of the World, but the light of the world, and illuminates just another woman. The self-processing machine poem is fully possible. The question is whether it will be interesting. The question is always whether it is interesting.
EH: Your Factory series seems poised to produce Vanessa Place as the voided signature effect – but also, if we pass behind the contentless light of authorship, isn't every signature the effect of signature networks - what is the idea behind the series? I like it especially as the same idea as Warhol's factory.
VP: It is the same idea, only more so. After all, Warhol was still overseeing actual production, still producing things that operated as signature-pieces within a signature network: they were "Warhols" as much as Rembrandts of the Rembrandt School may be forever and rightly considered Rembrandts. Of course, Rembrandt is another excellent model, as he encouraged independent copying of his work, then sold the copy as authorized by him. To extend these practices, I authorize works not authored by me or by those I authorize to author my work—copies of copies of absent authority. Like citation, the referent betrays a fundamental lack of authority on the part of the citing author. Unlike citation, there is no authoritative source. It's a rank imitation of "Vanessa Place" as "Vanessa Place" is rank imitation.
EH: To return to the phoneme as the 'infra thin' of poetry – this seems, after Jakobson, to be an equalising movement within poetry, "word boundary equals word boundary, no boundary equals no boundary" (Jakobson, 'Linguistics and Poetics') – perhaps in your view the evaporation point of immateriality? Could this be the most radical of all mimesis – evaporating like the world, language itself where anything sequential is a simile?
VP: It could be. Though I doubt it will be a linear terminus. More horizontal, which is the shape of the infra-thin, which is always a horizon.
Two examples: in Die Dichtkunst, the "u" is untranslatable as a boundary. In Le vierge..., the "383" is untranslatable as no boundary. A third: the all-as-nothing and nothing-at-all of Black Square.
EH: I hear you're busy at the moment with some kind of mammoth project circling around certain keywords? Care to expand?
VP: Let's suppose art could be divided into metaphor, metonymy and mimesis. Let's suppose we could subdivide these categories into certain imperatives. The rest is a matter of search, save, and sculpt. Which is simply the contraction and dilation (or exaggeration and negation) of subject matter. Like a combine.
EH: We must talk about evil – as far as I follow your idea of a poetics of 'radical evil', this is developed from a 'slicing' of Kant's moral arguments, that is, without the sin at one end and the transcendence at the other. Kant argues that when motivations are corrupted away from good ends, this perversion is in itself evil. But I think I've flattened this out – how does radical evil work as a poetics?
VP: Radical evil as a moral thesis is the intentional will to do evil, despite the option/imperative of the good. Radically evil poetics is a poetics that wilfully does evil to poetry as a poetics. Whereas Kant saw radical evil as irrational and essentially (or rather existentially) individualistic, radically evil poetics is a logical group aesthetical and ethical progression. In this sense, it is also Duchampian, though without the redemptive possibility—or conversion factor— of the artist/saviour. In this sense, it is also strictly Kantian, insofar as it hones to the Kantian imperative of duty as the only good, and the duty of poetry to dumbly churn out something called poetry.
What is poetry? Poetry is that which is not not poetry.
Poetry sans signifier, poetry after the end of poetry.
EH: Kant's insistence that we only know appearances also seems to underlie your arguments based around the ratiocination of a moral calculus, a faith grounded in practical reason – to pretend to pierce this faith, to experience essences directly is dangerous. Am I getting morally a little warmer?
VP: If it was a snake, it would bite you.
EH: Not not poetry. If an art form dies, its ghost emerges or just becomes more visible. If not impurities then what do you find in the archives of historical rhyme, lyric, pastoral, epic, geographic song?
VP: Pure pleasure.
And isn't that the point? What does art have to commend itself if not its fitted pleasures?
EH: What unworld is seen on the water's surface?
 Series Editor Chris Hershey-Van Horn is my Gerard Malanga.
 So that, for example, on June 21, 2001, Steve Giasson, a Montreal-based poet, read Vanessa Place's "SCUM Manifesto" at the Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Angers as "Vanessa Place," introduced by event organizers with Vanessa Place's bio.
3 Poems by Samantha Walton
WATER is COOLER!
be HAPPINESS: now
Download these poems as a pdf (121kb)
Three Poems by Francesca Lisette
we are all just person-people
in a fucked-up universe
wake up. good
morning is the same as night
unpick stealth of wool & teeth its knotted in.
let’s start again, because gender theory has been
inadequate unless lived inhabited as part of daily drum
roll that reaches forgotten angst you can’t itch.
like this could be a rinse of past life, wiped out
by the sink of relentless impasse & begin again,
too cool for memories eyes flick over a split-level
dust cloud who have we been where we’ve fucked
or not eyeballs to fluid it caves in because don’t
straighten this acceptance anything not goading it
isn’t, doesn’t exist outside the prism of illusion
words carry in a string cauterising your ear
to my lip just south of London & could the
cabinet of affections play with provable value, at
what point does the refusal of bourgeois morality
become self-neglect, those who can think about
deprivation are provided for, & how percolating
these disavowed hands make the cross, scuffed w/
poverty dis(-solution/-illusion) compression it all
acts to the same breath telescoped thru your vigil as
you rise to shave hued vassal in morning light
have i ever cared enough burnished to distraction
& the echo of endlessness because raw, prescient
as smoke funnelling over Wordsworth’s mystic
house and past lives are gone and scream because this is
true economics slide by oil-black ______ are never
coming back the opportunity to be free of prose
return to basin and strip the head’s colour-swatch
to this premise we’ll be rid of tomorrow 25/01
Gross embarkation more or less shrived the image.
The dialectic of feet
they loom always, fat & ectoplasmic
nixing gas of essential foetus // dumbly demanding cauterization.
Girl observant wears catacomb in hair
exchanges frangible wafers for
sprouting party of flesh
Duellet image : praecox : disjecta
Inquire by scattered knees
faithful black tears fumbled iron in scraps
-- but why trail your scent downriver?
I’ll not fetch gouged trim of this sermon /
nor be prey to a fool’s writ --
Much as would call for
craven desire in the frozen aisles,
matt peas on the shelf.
Surprised, only be penniless
for a minute tented as fever, costly while afternoon sticks
to my orientation, limb-socket jams in th’ bud.
Flavourless run-off all bellied & boxed: an equation intended
to express equivalence produces the effect of
uncertainty aka, does the snuffbox know what
the knee pit is doing? emphatically not; rather
the relation is gun-jumped & shy.
Prolong our leap to its rescue, say we’re proud of this
nation & its discontents, yet nothing’s pandemic that can’t be
rendered LOSSLESS/ pilgrim in the smooth blue flash.
The eyes are for flowers.
Under a dream of shelter by the sky
do not preen invisible
do not rock window dollars
do not plaintive pigeon shit shine
do not “Jane’s-in-the-country”
morose tackle hold.
There are some things better left
to the girl with the rose-gold apple.
You’re not a definite gap in sociology dreamboat
or a tumescent wedge leaking.
Bear the green springs and shot fire lights
bald marry in shave-down literature.
One is always becoming what she isn’t.
History crumbling like cake.
Is it you on the
dial, or Venus