Monday, December 29, 2008

When Does It or You Begin?

Festival of Writing, Performance, & Video


Curated by Amina Cain &
Jennifer Karmin
at Links Hall

3435 N. Sheffield Avenue
Chicago, IL


8pm Friday
& Saturday
7pm Sunday

tickets $12

$10 students, seniors, & working artists/writers

full schedule online

When Does It or You Begin? (Memory as Innovation) explores the ways new forms of expression are created from the recollections of individuals, groups, positions, and places. Moving from subject to action, in between imagination and lived experience, the festival draws together writers and artists who take memory as a site of curiosity and absorption. Who are we when we remember?

January 9-11
Individual Memory: A Celebration for
Hannah Weiner - Lee Ann Brown, Judith Goldman with John Beer, Roberto Harrison, Nicole LeGette, Jenny Roberts, Timothy Yu, video by Abigail Child

January 9
opening reception & talkback with Laura Goldstein

January 10
butoh workshop with Nicole LeGette

January 16-18

Collective Memory
: Collaboration is Group Work - Jen Hofer with Dolores Dorantes and Patrick Durgin, Jennifer Karmin with 14 Chicago writers (Mars Caulton, Joel Craig, Kathleen Duffy, Lisa Fishman, Krista Franklin, Chris Glomski, Daniel Godston, Brandi Homan, A D Jameson, Lisa Janssen, Erika Mikkalo, Ira S. Murfin, Timothy Rey, Lily Robert-Foley), John Keene with Christopher Stackhouse, Laurie Jo Reynolds with Amy Partridge and Stephen F. Eisenman, Tradeshow, video by Temporary Services

January 16
talkback with Terri Kapsalis

January 17
performance workshop with Karen Christopher & Bryan Saner

January 20
inauguration party with AACM, Anti Gravity Surprise, Chicago Women's Health Center, the Dill Pickle Food Co-op & Mess Hall

January 22
open house event with Judith Goldman

January 23-25
Memory’s Encounter: The Language of Position - Teresa Carmody, Karen Christopher, Quraysh Ali Lansana with Preston Poe, Vanessa Place, Nathalie Stephens (Nathanaël),
Christine Stewart, videos by Gaelen Hanson and Cecilia Vicuña

January 23
talkback with Ed Roberson

January 29
open house event with Laurie Jo Reynolds

January 30-February 1

Memory’s Place: Alternative Sites and Histories - Tisa Bryant, Amina Cain with Rachel Tredon,
Duriel Harris, Miranda Mellis, ThickRoutes Performance Collage, videos by Bryan & Jake Saner and Chi Jang Yin

January 30 talkback with Tony Trigilio

February 1
closing event with AREA Chicago writers

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chapter Four, Part One

FOR THE harbor area of Los Angeles, the day was normal enough—or so Tom Watkins thought as he pulled his little sport job into a parking lot and waited for the attendant to give him a ticket.

“And you still want to return to Germany?”

“I don’t think I have much choice in the matter. I firmly believe that one must be consistent. Every one of us is born into a certain environment, has a native language and specific thought patterns, and if he has not cut himself off from this environment very early in life, he will feel most at home and do his best work in that environment. Now history teaches us that, sooner or later, every country is shaken by revolutions and wars; and whole populations obviously cannot migrate every time there is a threat of such upheavals. People must learn to prevent catastrophes, not to run away from them. Their whole organism is specialized for finding safety on mountainous terrain.”

The resumption of international contacts once again brought together old friends.

“But, surely, we do know what we mean when we speak of the ‘meaning’ of life,” I objected.

In the summer of 1939 I lectured at the universities of Ann Arbor and Chicago. In the bay, a tug had a bone in its teeth; a great liner was coming in from the depths of the blue Pacific; and just beyond the parking lot, a huge concrete warehouse looked to be quite substantial and real.

"But that doesn’t mean,” I asked, “that temperature is not an objective property?”

So far the attendant got, then stopped speaking as an intolerably bright light flared in the sky. In the summer of 1939 I lectured at the universities of Ann Arbor and Chicago. Its distance was hard to estimate but its brightness was not. We call all those species ‘fit’ or ‘viable’ which prosper under the given circumstances. When it flared in the sky, the sunlight seemed to fade away into a dim glow.

“I consider it marvelous,” he said, “that Paul should be so uncompromising in his defense of all that can be expressed in clear and logical language.”

The parking lot attendant looked straight at it. Differential observational situations—by that I mean the over-all experimental setup, the readings, etc.—are often not complementary, i.e., they are mutually exclusive, cannot be obtained simultaneously, and their results cannot be correlated without further ado.

“I know just how you feel, and I have told myself the same thing thousands of times.”

There is no reason why the addition of this element should cause us any fundamental difficulties. No Sound accompanied the light. Not yet.

“There it is.”

Tom Watkins did not need anyone to tell him what this light was.

The resumption of international contacts once again brought together old friends.

Isn’t it odd that, throughout this discussion, no one should have mentioned quantum theory?

There are some fish that can produce electric shocks and so defend themselves against their enemies. There are others whose appearance is so perfectly adapted to life in the sand that they completely merge with the sea bed and so fool all predators.

“It is quite obvious that in this game we are using language quite differently than we do in science.”

My visitor now made as if to go, but I asked him whether I might not play him the last movement of the Schumann concerto—as far as this could be done at all without the help of an orchestra.

"Come on, man! There's no time to waste."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chapter Three, Part Four

“I’m blind!” Dr. Speransky screamed. “Call a doctor, fast!” ”The people attending the camp are a very strange mixture. Many simply go because they are expected to, and because, like me, they are afraid to lose their jobs.” Returning to the experiment, Dr. Frolov did not look to see, but he knew the light was still flaring in the sky. “Now you are really being unfair. You can’t honestly believe that Germany could still be saved with minor reforms.” He grabbed Dr. Speransky’s arms. During the next few days the weather proved changeable and we went on a number of excursions, some long, others short. “Get away from me! Don’t touch me.” Jerking free, Dr. Speransky fumbled his way into the special laboratory. The immediate prewar years, or rather what part of them I spent in Germany, struck me as a period of unspeakable loneliness. The Nazi regime had become so firmly entrenched that there was no longer the slightest hope of a change from within. Dr. Frolov did not wait to see more. Nor did he try to use his car. “Now you are really being unfair. You can’t honestly believe that Germany could still be saved with minor reforms.” Ever since 1918 things have been going from bad to worse. Dr. Frolov knew this, knew that inside the building all the research rooms (four to each floor) were isolated from one another by a cross-shaped corridor; the top and ground floors, where these rooms were situated, were separated by an intermediate floor. “Even if you were right about that, I would not like to call a forced retreat by others a genuine achievement of your movement or of Hitler.” Each experiment began with the special stimulus of a buzzer or a metronome—yet another important factor in determining the rate of experimental extinction is the length of pause between successive repetitions of the special stimulus without reinforcement. “Nor is it our business to prescribe to God how He should run the world.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Statement of Facts

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of self-appropriations, selected from my cases. Many thanks to Kenneth Goldsmith, who encouraged same.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A bit of a feral house

[This is not all, but it is all I am posting--for which you may be thankful]


I’ll describe the house to you first. You’ll like that, won’t you. Think of places where the plants are free to grow wild. Where the climate gives them all the rain they need—these plants are plants of the woods and they do just fine in the cloudy climes of upstate New York or the Northwestern United States. The plants grow wild around this Victorian era house. The shape of it is below:

The paint peels a bit, but the color scheme is a purple-blue and red. I lived there once.

Bring she who is Garlanded with flowers to me. I offer my first incision.

There are broken brick-colored pavings leading up to the wood stairs. Each step you take on the stairs creaks, that is what they are meant to do.

The power of the pox is upon and within her. I offer my second incision.

A grand old wooden door, painted a bright red, with a handle and keyhole. You can peer in and see the flicker of lights.

She asks only to consume. I offer my third incision.

It isn’t good enough that you should want to live here. My boy fled very quickly. Someone was locked in the attic for a long time, hiding there. Someone was a little black cat. This place smelled of fear and being trapped. A small space, step only on the beams and you might keep from breaking through the roof. You can see where they live in the insulation. You can. But these holes are so deep and black it is impossible to reach far enough in.

Wake the lady with the sunken breasts I offer my fourth incision.

But I digress. Perhaps I might describe some action. Something that happened there. Perhaps if I do this I can open the door, without leaping hither and yon into disjointed spaces. They all connect. The spaces, I mean. At least I think they do, although sometimes, when I was in the house, I’d be by the attic, cleaning up the refuse from the creatures hiding and then, without knowing I’d done it, I’d be outside by the back door, trying to fit myself under the overhang to keep from the rain.

Feed this drop to she who will torment for sixteen years. I offer my fifth incision.

Bella is a fine name. She was pretty too, if that makes you feel better. Bella lived in the house with two friends. They divided the rooms so each had her own. Bella lived on the uppermost floor, with her own bathroom and a second little room.

Hold the wrist of the mother of nymphs I offer my sixth incision.

It was on that floor that the door to the attic was. Bella loved her little black cat, Chiquita. This little black cat learned something about the attic because she fit inside, fit in like hand in glove to speak. The little black cat vanished. Holed up--whole up, so to speak.

Bring she who dances on corpses to me. I offer my seventh and final incision.

is this true? The cat exists in the interstices between me and you. The cat intercedes in the interstices--she holds the dark at bay. This particularly cat held it at bay because she had an attachment to the girl, to Bella. But here is the question: Who, if anyone, intercedes for the cat?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fig Auction List and Reminder

Dear All Upcoming Attendees, Maybes, and Wish-I-Coulds:

The Les Figues gala/auction is coming up sooner than soon, and we look forward to seeing you there. We’ve planned all manner of fun, ordered delicious food (sponsored by Papa Cristo’s), and collected truly strange and wonderful auction items, thanks to the amazing support and generosity of so many writers, artists and independent businesses.

You can see the complete list of items now (and even BUY some NOW) by clicking on this link:


Again, the event details:

Saturday, December 6, 2008
$15-$25 (door)
Les Figues Headquarters in West Adams (RSVP by email for the address)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 10

Your inaptness joins hands with my miscommitted allegiances and leaps off the cliff of the lower lip – take that! Meanwhile, ice pioneers flexing their icicles prepare for descent. Mouths warming open. First response from the West: “Try not to land in the Traffic of a Thousand Rounders.” Then: “Close your mouth, just close it.” Who was it that said this: “That country in the East where icicles are both sweet and self-defense.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Give A Fig Benefit Auction!

Save the date.... [Saturday, Dec. 6]

Please join us for Les Figues 2nd annual "Give A Fig" benefit auction, hosted by Les Figues with emcees Matias Viegener and Ali Liebegott. 

This year's theme is Community Supported Art-n-Culture. Just like the small farms that grow nourishing & delicious produce through the support of individuals who buy an annual share (or CSA) of that year’s yield, Les Figues makes nutritious & delicious literature through the community support of people like you.

Saturday, Dec. 6

Reception 7.00pm | Program begins 7.30pm

Where: Les Figues Headquarters in West Adams (RSVP by email for the address)

Admission: $15-$25 suggested donation
Please RSVP (

The evening will include live auctions, silent auctions, performances, food and drinks. This year's auctions will feature:

• Membership to The Museum of Jurassic Technology
• 5 page static site by Allison Carter
• Wine tasting for two at Silverlake Wine
• Gift certificates from Skylight Books and Brand Bookshop
• Three day writer's retreat at Joshua Tree
• Signed children's book for adults by Flint
• Small press/zine basket
• Palm reading by Bhanu Kapil
• Customized song that only you are allowed to listen to from Eric Lindley
• Slim painting by Ali Liebegott
• Consultation with a librarian/archivist who will assist you with developing an intellectual scheme for the management of your personal collections (all formats) by Joe Milazzo
• 2 pairs of Redcat tickets
• Cat behavior consultation
• Haircut at Purple Circle
• Commissioned reading from Vanessa Place
• Jasmine Blue Flower gift certificate for a floral arrangement
• Letter of advice from Anna Joy Springer
• Signed books
• Original artwork by Stephanie Taylor, Molly Corey, Marcus Civan, Candice Lin, Marcus Civin, Alex Foreman, Yasmin Kashfi, Mary Swanson, Fallen Fruit, Ken Ehrlich, and others
• And more to come...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Communiqué from Chicago: Election 2008

There It Is

And if we don't fight
if we don't resist
if we don't organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

-- Jayne Cortez

Hope is the thing with feathers and permanent marker. The word scrawled in big letters on the entrance of a school playground down the street, H O P E. This collection of stories with multiple narratives. We made it up.

Begin at the beginning. Chicago is a city of historical sparks. Flash to: May 1, 1867 a city-wide strike demanding the eight-hour workday; September 3, 1955 an open-casket funeral for teenager Emmett Till after his Mississippi lynching; August 28, 1968 an anti-war protest in Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention. The protesters assaulted by police in front of the Hilton Hotel and chanting “The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching.” On November 4, 2008, the whole world will be watching as Barack Obama gives his speech in Grant Park. We are told to register for online tickets and bring photo ID.

To participate in history is to acknowledge history is to celebrate history. The trial of the leaders of the ’68 DNC protests becomes a mixed up world of animation and archival footage in the recent film Chicago 10, written and directed by Brett Morgen. The Yippies look like superheroes. Abbie Hoffman’s hair fills the screen and Allen Ginsberg literally levitates himself. Satire is the main weapon and authority is lampooned by any means necessary. Does what we do make a difference?

The night of the first 2008 presidential debate David Dorfman and his dance company performed in Chicago. Dorfman described the inspiration for this piece, entitled underground:

Although I was only 13 during the "Days of Rage" in 1969, too young to be protesting in the Chicago streets, I remember being awed by the audacity of the Weathermen. Now I am interested in the legacy of the Weather Underground's principles, and also in its foibles and its regrets.

A dancer kneeled on the stage with fist in air, frozen in time. Others soon entered, examining the statue and asking “What’s that?” After some deliberation, the group realized that they had found an activist. One performer suggested “Hey, let’s make it do something.” So, the group began pushing their bodies up against the sole activist, helping him to stand up, helping him to move again. Suddenly, more people appeared on the stage and they too cheered for the activist who was now upright. We are reminded of possibility.

Last week the children at the local Boys & Girls Club organized a neighborhood peace march. They painted slogans on bright colored umbrellas and walked around together yelling “What do we want? PEACE! When do we want it? NOW!” In the autumn sun, they strutted past the community gardens, the murals, the gang members, the police, the condos, and the public housing. We know, there it is.
[for Studs Terkel: May 16, 1912 - October 31, 2008]

Friday, October 31, 2008


The copula "da" comes at the end of a declarative statement, and varies according to the regional dialect spoken. (As you can see, Obama is winning in most of Japan as well.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chapter Three, Part Three

“I’m blind!” the attendant screamed. “I don’t think I have much choice in the matter.” “There’s no time for a doctor.” This situation is so obvious that I sometimes have the vague hope it may even filter through to Hitler himself, and that he may have second thoughts about starting a war. But this is probably pure wishful thinking on my part. For Hitler is irrational and simply shuts his eyes to anything he does not want to see. Nor did he add that there might never be time for a doctor again. “No, certainly not,” Dr. Solovaichick replied. After all, it is almost the essence of an experiment that the observations can be described with the concepts of classical physics. Watkins did not know the man. Dr. Solovaichick was not entirely satisfied. “I think you may find it difficult to apply your analogy to physics. For my part, I can readily agree with the positivists about the things they want, but not about the things they reject. Let me explain.” 

“Get away from me! Don’t touch me.” Jerking free, the attendant fumbled his way into the shack on the lot. After we had been looking for possible experimental mistakes for some time, I said to Dr. Solovaichik: “Isn’t it odd that, throughout this discussion, no one should have mentioned quantum theory? We behave as if the electrically charged particles were an object like an electrically charged oil droplet, or like a pith ball in an old electroscope. We quite unthinkingly use the concepts of classical physics, as if we had never heard of the limitations of these concepts and of uncertainty relations. Isn’t that bound to lead to errors?” Tom did not wait to see more. Despite the convulsion of scientific life at home and abroad caused by Hitler’s rise to power, atomic physics developed with astonishing rapidity. He knew that in seconds, before he could get it turned around, it might be so much twisted metallic junk. “Because they are objects. Without objects there can be no objective science. And what objects are is determined by such categories as substance, causality, etc. If you renounce the strict application of these categories, then you also renounce the possibility of experience in general.” He headed for the shelter, running all the way.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Here and

Are your feet are having difficulty finding the ground?

Or perhaps not.

I do not feel self-righteous, do you?
And, if it is not impolite, how do you do it?

I saw a ladder, hung with

upon which

to and fro

To say my heart is broken is, to be honest, yet another example of my melodramatic tendencies.

And it was at this moment, when the clouds obscured the sun, that we knew that we discovered, the secret of the tower. It, appearing so unbalanced, held only by a few fragments, yet…

And it was at this moment, when my heart became guilty of this or that thing, that it cracked in another place

And it was at the moment, when the clouds obscured my heart, when the tower became my spine, my leaning the wind

And it was

And it, and it

Remember, the hypothesis is no better than the information that goes into generating it, and is, like the latter, a thing that goes to and fro.

We are all unsettled here, we are all walking down roads, dusty or muddy, we are following the footprints of the Stephen’s island wren and just ahead, the bonobo. We are not self-righteous, for all right thinking, all self, has been vanished. We are heartbroken, and perhaps melodramatic. We are dying, for that is what happens when one becomes alive.

We live in different places, some free of ghosts and in air thick with the detritus.

We love time, for she will finally take us, and this is what we are walking for—to be caught up in what is time, in her amours. All arms and legs and blessed daggers.

Ah. that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Appropriation: 2 Case Studies

#1: The Richard Mutt Case (Marcel Duchamp, 1917)

They say any artist paying six dollars may exhibit.

Mr. Richard Mutt sent in a fountain. Without discussion this article disappeared and was never exhibited.

What were the grounds for refusing Mr. Mutt's fountain:

1. Some contend it was immoral, vulgar.

2. Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing.

Now Mr. Mutt's fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bath tub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers' show windows.

Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

As for plumbing, that is absurd. The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.

#2: The For Godot Case (Stephen McLaughlin, 2008)

So I started a collection of poet names. Once I had around 1500, I asked my friend Jim Carpenter to send me a batch of 5,000 poems composed by Erika T. Carter, his ludicrously advanced poetry generation software. These poems aren't simply random cutups of randomly selected texts. As you can see by reading them, they each have a thematic & stylistic unity unparalleled (so far as I know) in the field of algorithmic poetry generation. As numerous commenters have noted, it's difficult to tell whether some of these things were written by man or machine. Surprisingly, many of the poems in the magazine are actually 'good.' Sort of.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

And a Good Day To You!

(Note: I am listening to Neverwhere and the Thirteenth Tale and watching The Grave of the Fireflies. The rest I am actually reading.)

It is fun to make networks--so much fun. You should try it in a bus, you should try it in a rush, you should try it here and there…

Anyone else feeling bereft?

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer...
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.

For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life...

I am trying to trap cats hither and yon. Cats make me think of language a lot—the language of research where some organisms are called invasive species. When you use this language you turn the individual member of the species into a vermin (for isn’t invasive species really the same as saying vermin?) This is how you make it less of your issue. This is how you make it ok to poison, infect, trap, and shoot these vermin. Oh it annoys me. The moral onus moves from the people who caused the problem to the creature that was dragged along on ships, dumped and left, managed to survive.

Would you rent a house that disturbed you? I can still smell fear—it is urinous.

I finished Kiss of the Yogini. It is quite interesting. Everywhere is the yogini—but she is sublimated as things become more orthodox. It is written from a male point of view. So although Smith claims that the sublimation and erasure of the Yogini (mother, seizer, sakti) is problematic, I never sense what it is to be the woman who is the stand in for the supernatural dakinis, and seizers and goddesses. She is always the agent of fear or desire, of power, but never a yogini—the human females used in lieu of them inside her own skin. Or at least not until the final chapter, when he mentions that yoginis are often treated in the way witches are in the west. Hmmm.

Taken by a seizer, it can be a small child, it can cause a disease, she is a seizer and a bird as well. Can that be?


Each phase of a child dies, and the child that was that phase dies to some extent—as all of the particles that make up our cells are replaced in regular sequence as we age so the child that was is replaced by the child that is, and that child replaced by the child that will be.

the forms.

It is perhaps not a particular sad thing, I suppose, a healthy child that develops normally, but it is what time is and I get very sad sometimes. When my first was a day old I knew his perfection would not last through the basic brutalization that is life. Or at least this is how I felt then. Everything is so messy. I cannot keep things orderly and neat.

a door opens

We have photos and films of our little babies, then older and older. There is an imprint.

into the yard

The photos for sale in antique shops: imprints of the dead imprints. I know an artist who paints these people with flowers for hats and.

wooden cherry scent

Should I be with my children at every moment, soaking up their being before it disappears and becomes a new being?

I watched you as you disappeared

What do I lose by doing this by myself? And what I have I become in each moment?

She is a seizer and a bird, she is the yogini, she is to whom I offer myself, she is Kali, goddess of time. I understand her detached violence, her brutal churning of the world’s blood, her dance on the dead, or perhaps not dead, Siva. And her tenderness.

oh shit. fuckit. I’m done.

On the road, scrabblemouth. I save my emblems for the end. Little babies hold my hand, when it is time, when the apocalypse is here, I’ll shoot you.

(Quotes by Christopher Smart, Cormac McCarthy, Tom Waits)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chapter Three, Part Two

IN the summer of 1939 I lectured at the universities of Ann Arbor and Chicago--or so Dr. Frolov thought as he pulled his little sport job into a parking lot and waited for Dr. Speransky to give him the same special stimulus. How fortunate the revolution that does not end with the enthronement of the enemy. The tone D of Max Kohl’s tone variator, damped to different degrees, provided the stimuli for these experiments. Perhaps these chamois only succeeded in escaping from you because they did not have to think first, or discuss the best method of eluding you. In the bay, a tug had a bone in its teeth; a great liner was coming in from the depths of the blue Pacific; and just beyond the parking lot, a huge concrete warehouse looked to be quite substantial and real.

"I am inclined to agree with on the whole--" So far Dr. Speransky got, then stopped speaking as an intolerably bright light flared in the sky. Up toward Pasadena, the light might be over the Rose City, it might be over downtown Los Angeles. During the next few days the weather proved changeable and we went on a number of excursions, some long, some short. The experiments were conducted in the following manner. During the next few days the weather proved changeable and we went on a number of excursions, some long, some short. Dr. Frolov caught only a glimpse of the light out of the corner of his eyes. Dr. Speransky failed to get close enough, and admired the instinct of animals who could detect the softest sound, the merest footprint in the snow, the crackling of a branch or the slightest scent, and take evasive action. Dropping the special stimulus, he clapped his hands over his eyes and began to scream, "I'm blind! I'm blind!"

During the next few days the weather proved changeable and we went on a number of excursions, some long, some short. On many occasions a phase of equalization of the reflexes was observed after administration of the buzzer, the reflexes often diminishing and the animal declining the food.

The golden age of atomic physics was now fast drawing to an end. He knew instantly the source from which it came, knew this better than he knew his own name, knew it with an absolute sureness. In the summer of 1939 I lectured at the universities of Ann Arbor and Chicago. "Come on, man! There's no time to waste."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beauty Belief and Bawdry.

That was the founding motto of Les Figues Press. It was January 2005, and Les Figues had committed to publishing the first book of its first series—TrenchArt: Material—by April 1 of that year. Yet even then we knew Les Figues wanted to do far more than pick, publish and sell books.

Les Figues would make beauty—not in the classical sense (though Les Figues books are aesthetically pleasing)—but beauty as irresolvable tension and contradiction, beauty as conversation, beauty as verb.

And Les Figues would stir up belief in a new way of publishing, one that foregrounds how individual books—like individual minds—do not exist in a vacuum. We wanted something different than the standard small press plan of having one or two big-name. We wanted to create a conversation between books, writers, and readers.

Finally, Les Figues would engage in bawdry by pushing the limits of acceptability. What do you call this kind of writing? Poetry? Prose? Litteral Poetics? In a world of sound bites, how complicated can we make this?

So like any group of good Americans with an idea, we made a business plan, though instead of projecting potential financial profits, we projected something like this:

[Every book we make will be beautiful by our definition of beauty; that is, 100% of books we put into the world will be beautiful. At first, only a few people will believe in this idea, an estimated 1 out of every 10 people we meet, understanding, of course, that we meet mostly writers and artist-types. If we were meeting more accountants and avid-skiers, the percentage of initial belief will most likely be lower. We project the percentage of belief will rise and as it rises, bawdry will decrease, for the more something is believed in, the more acceptable it becomes to believe in it. Yet bawdry will never decrease beneath the level of belief because we can’t help it: we like bawdry books.]

Four years later, we’re still making beauty, belief and bawdry, as evidenced in the annual TrenchArt series. Every year, we group four similarly-concerned books together, work with each of the writers to develop an aesthetic essay/poetics, then publish these aesthetics in a uniquely-bound, limited-edition book, available for members only.

Join in on the onversation be becoming subscribing members of Les Figues Press. When you do you'll receive each of the five books in the current TrenchArt: Tracer series, including works by Allison Carter, Kim Rosenfield, Amina Cain and Sophie Robinson, and art by Ken Ehrlich and Susan Simpson.

Say yes, let there be figs.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Maxi Kim reading, what feels like a long time ago:

You must be a giggly machete. I agree with you about the earthquakes: the inside was out of reach. My agreeing was getting me in trouble. For example – excavation of my eye sockets. (Where else to go? Which destination?) What could be better than skin when the dam bursts? (Which fluid to rescue first?) Speaking of rescue, this tree, not even yours. My mom with somebody else’s blood. Thanks (go skipping) all around.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When Someone Dies

I think I knew them.
I knew of them.
I worked with them.
I met them at a party.

Him. This time, it's him.

I chant a poem to my mother and it's only lines are

It happened to her.
It happened to her.
It happened to her.
It happened to her.
It happened to her.

What is it that happened most? Life? Or death? Where are we left? Where am I?

I think I.
I think "I".
As a gateway to remembering, I start with myself. What do I know?

I write this blog at last because it's only tonight that I've finally read his.
His email contact at the top right column.
I check my computer's address book. There it is. The same.

I pull a book of poems from a shelf. Some Are Dying by Reginald Shepherd, who died last night in his sleep, fighting cancer? Shaking hands with it, bowing? Turning his back to it to write a poem into the ashy air of his last dream become his first? What do I know about Reginald? About his work? His whole body of work? His whole body. I don't think I feel. I feel. I believe in the continuum, I tell myself. I don't know anything. I feel. Something will come round to fingertips, to nerves, to fluttering lashes at the neck of a lover, a pillow, the breeze from the open window. Come round from somewhere to here. I ring a mental bell. Passing through.
What can an oeuvre tell about an actual body, a somebody? Are we not skeletons fleshed with refrain? Some Are Dying is the only book of Reginald's I have. His first book. At random now I flip the book open, press, break the spine. For once, I don't wince.

What Cannot Be Kept
He was dreaming of the factories across the water's fog
and pillared smoke, a man listing toward him in a paper boat
whose outstretched palm read Wait. He was laid out
on a lawn chair in the park; and that night
boys were dancing in the branches of the trees
at the party, floating in the crotch of two limbs,
their motion the blur between nature and sex.
the color of them prints across the eye
as plums, in verging autumn, print heavily on the open palm. They fall from such
trees, the trees are barren: held up at the cusp of two
seasons, both falling, one so-called. he dreamt he was
starving, so slim he could slip between
the horn and the ivory gates; their flesh wears away to a winter's
witness, the history of fleeting ripeness packed
in salted lines and photographs unfolded
while it snows. The originals
are ruined, worn to a mirror's whiteness by the river
trucks drive over, cemented with the progressive sediments,
the waste of fruitfulness sanded down
to almost-morning mist.

Reginald Shepherd, Some Are Dying, Pitt University Press, 1994

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Whys of What We Do

With Kim Rosenfield's re: evolution off to the printer, and Allison Carter's A Fixed, Formal Arrangement due in any time now, I've turned my attention to writing the Figues annual new membership letter. This is the letter sent to those who have signed up to be on our mailing list, but who have not yet taken the next step of officially becoming a "subscribing member."

(BTW: all of you out there who need to renew your membership, please, RENEW TODAY. As mentioned, we have books at the printer, which means we need your support in order to pay that bill. But even more, the TrenchArt Tracer series is really dynamite, or to paraphrase Mathew Timmons, "Wow! I want every one of those books.")

But back to the new member letter, its intention to persuade others to support Les Figues. All non-profits send fundraising appeals, and as any person working in non-profit development will tell you, the primary source of funding for non-profit organizations is individuals. When I did fundraising for social service organizations (everything from HIV/AIDS to domestic violence and sexual assault), these appeals were easier to write. For God's sake, people were dying. But when it comes to the arts, there often isn't the same kind of urgency. Publishing a book of experimental/avant-writing won't help feed and clothe anyone, even the author.

Of course, the writers published by Les Figues aren't writing in order to make money; they're writing for other reasons: because they have something to say, because they love literature, because they want to shift cultural conversation. I know for me, I realized at some point I wanted to do more than survive. I wanted to engage with others on a deeper level, which is what I think art does. Because it goes inside you, through your eyes and ears, until it gets into your head and heart, and isn't this wonderful?

I just asked Vanessa this same question –– why do you write –– and she thinks I have the question all wrong. For her, the question is why would somebody not write? What made a person quit writing? Why not make something? Why why...why not?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Politics of this Aesthetics: A Manifest

If mastery is the mode of the masterpiece, and a manifesto is a call to actions or arms or piped objectives, this is a slave manifest, an empty set, the roll call of nothing to stooped nothing, evidence of something that is without but more within, the cache of a cache with no cache, conscious and honey-repressed. Suppressed, that is, for we are not without ambition. Helpless, we were, in the face of our adorable ignorance, we were movers but not shakers, or we shook without motion, we had no hope of salvation, though we were confident of obliteration.
Is this offensive? We would very much like to offend, taking beauty or banality, in any dose, including the frigid equal, to do so. We steal, we fabricate, making, faking and taking, erase in homage to the unmaster that unmakes us all, being, as we are, an object with subjective features, visa versa, that is, being as being recognizing the chop shop power of the found object and of power itself. I would keep my hands to myself if I were you. We could be revolting if we could not revolt. Revolving, that is, putting a shackled spin on this place you call history and I call geography and neither of us call home, though it’s where we keep our shoes and teeth and what’s left of the neighbors. Revaulting, that is, putting a new shine on the old bolted canal, there’s nothing like a punctum to set a spring in your step and the smell of blackberries in the crook of your unthroated neck.
We are largely American, fat and unfathomable as our great grasping land. We see from sea to sea and what we see is the swimming. I would keep my mouth shut, if I were you. Our May fell in mid-September, when the aftermath was over, and we found out that autobiography was your ticket out of here. Here, that is, for there’s plenty of that, being kept in cones of eye-bit idolatry. Do you remember that man, the one that kept saying the thing he said? We parsed it and put it into cans. It was very romantic. We wanted to be, that’s for certain, but were dizzied by the swarm of legs spread before us, and if I were you, I’d have worn a vinyl top, or knitted a scar for the front of my ears.
If we were dynamic, we’d be home by now. If we were inert, we’d be on the move, for we’re nothing if not moveable. What the man said was that if we weren’t willing to save, we should liquidate. If I were you, I’d buy low and sell high, for you always were fancy-free or pinioned in hagiography. If I were you, I’d be thinking. Visually, that is, for what I feel is a sort of violence, the desire to have desire, the desire to change your future today, to have a client relationship, to have an extended warrantee, a guaranteed agreement, to have the immortal part sopped in my own thin juices, that being to be that is the sole comfort of my adversaries. If we were If I were you, I’d be.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


a man in a Frenzy is thirsty

and what of me?

the term ma; the syllable itself is the space between that allows perception to occur. That space, what space? That constant struggle that creation of immediate revelation.

so to me by an immediate revelation

How do we do it? And who does it.
I have been thinking much on craft. Or rather, I have been experiencing a great deal of anxiety regarding craft.

The source of American Horror was that the voice of God might be nothing but the wind

Because I feel myself, in my writing, running wild—how do you make this craft, create this, where is the space we all talk about, within that embodiment? How do you make this space, the running wild, without overflowing your boundaries, becoming craftless and wild. I need incarceration, that padded cell so to speak, not to burst these boundaries

Incarcerate me in yourself

not to become something banal and meaningless because of the overflowing of the boundaries (the water over….but that’s all over or is it?).

a great deal of caution and pains were found necessary to keep the people many of them, from running wild

In the speech of the politicos there is one form of banality, the banality of speech reduced to the lowest common denominator—you can understand this, can’t you? No? (the numbers say no), well let’s try THIS.

So like
our trembling
we caught at it

I am bored with tight closed borders. I want borders opened, amoebic I want to swallow everything and be inured to nothing. To be human and non human, animal and plant, living and non living, aqueous and solid. To experience all of this in pure form.

Dwelling in the drop, she has the form of the drop, she whose own form is comprised of menstrual blood and the drop

I want to be elite and elided, filled up with words and overwhelmed with words that have their signifieds real—erupted--> is something erupting—see it? see it? no, damn, the signifier is uncoupled yet again. (But I’m sure something is in your mind now isn’t it…come on…something?!)

(Why is that woman putting silverware in her pocket?)

The babble of birds, the babble of babies, bring the meaning back to me I want it rich and true, but nothing if not stripped down.

Ghoul girl

I am this. I am ma. Give me ma. This is the emptiness of our language, latin and saxon, anglo squashed together and curling into the void. Lord help me, I am wild with empty signifiers and how I wish to make them into meaning, into revelation, into something that might screw this world up into a shape ordered differently, a different order that might yield to my longing and satisfy and bring me quiet.

I am …Rudra. I am that fisherman…I annihilate the entire universe…I am the Emitter…I constantly protect the ordered universe; therefore I am the Orderer.

(Quotes in italics are by Cotton Mather, the Antinomian Anne Hutchinson, Andrew Delbanco, Emily Dickinson, Jonathan Edwards, Robin Blaser, Kaulavalinirnaya of Jnanananda Paramahamsa, Alice Notley, Kaulajnananirnaya of Matsyendranatha)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chapter Three, Part One

FOR THE harbor area of Los Angeles, the day was normal enough--or so Tom Watkins thought as he pulled his little sport job into a parking lot and waited for the attendant to give him a ticket. “Perhaps these chamois only succeeded in escaping from you because they did not have to think first, or discuss the best method of eluding you. Their whole organism is specialized for finding safety on mountainous terrain.” Strange rumors of some deadly danger in the Basin had been in circulation for months, with the result that tens of thousands of frightened people had already left the area. “But, surely, we do know what we mean when we speak of the ‘meaning’ of life,” I objected. “The meaning of life depends on ourselves”. In the bay, a tug had a bone in its teeth; a great liner was coming in from the depths of the blue Pacific; and just beyond the parking lot, a huge concrete warehouse looked to be quite substantial and real.

"In spite of all that, Aristotle and the ancient Greeks took a great step forward when they discovered that language can be idealized and rendered precise enough for logical deductions. That kind of language is, of course, much narrower than everyday speech, but it is of inestimable value in natural science.” So far the attendant got, then stopped speaking as an intolerably bright light flared in the sky. Up toward Pasadena, the light might be over the Rose City, it might be over downtown Los Angeles. Its distance was hard to estimate but its brightness was not. It was brighter than the sun. When it flared in the sky, the sunlight seemed to fade away into a dim glow. Tom Watkins caught only a glimpse of the light out of the corner of his eyes. The parking lot attendant looked straight at it. Dropping the ticket, he clapped his hands over his eyes and began to scream. “I know just how you feel, and I have told myself the same thing thousands of times. Indeed, the idea of leaving the confines of Europe for the expanses of the New World has been a constant temptation ever since my first visit ten years ago."

No Sound accompanied the light. Not yet.

“You are again extolling experience as opposed to the rashness of youth, as old people are so accustomed to do. And since we can’t argue back, we simply draw deeper into our shells.”

Tom Watkins did not need anyone to tell him what this light was. He knew instantly the source from which it came, knew this better than he knew his own name, knew it with an absolute sureness. Isn’t it odd that, throughout this discussion, no one should have mentioned quantum theory? We behave as if the electrically charged particles were an object like an electrically charged oil droplet, or like a pith ball in an old electroscope. “It is quite obvious that in this game we are using language quite differently than we do in science. To begin with, we try to hide rather than bring out the real facts.”

"Come on, man! There's no time to waste."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Works

The first issue of the new journal Sous Rature is now online.


Hello! I have all kinds of things I've been meaning to post on, but it'd be crappy of me to not even mention this:

For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

by Takashi Hiraide

translated by yours truly, so I don't want to be the one to say how great it is...but hey. It was a good labor of love!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Now what that is

Dear Extant Text,
After what seems like a strange caesura, I begin again again. I’ve looked at your last long letter repeatedly in the interim, and thought about what all this is about, and how we both seem to be wrestling with the same sorts of devils, though they wear different shoes. I think I told you that I’ve been reading some about American minstrelsy lately, the minstrel show and the use of blackface – it’s all very interesting, but the hook under my skin is the phenomenon of black performers wearing blackface. And though you can’t go around (you meaning me) claiming that all things are all things, or making tortured equivalencies when that’s another kind of conceit, the bit of this that got to me was that sense of yes, if you put on the burnt cork, everyone likes you better, or at least easier, and then you can become someone who is wearing burnt cork: the mask as mask putting the mask-wearer in that excruciating yet liberating position of limited liberty. I suspect that not only do you know all this, but that this is what you’ve been doing all along, and forgive me if you’ve said this is what you’ve been doing all along, and I’ve been too thick or inattentive to notice.
That is a long preface, slightly pointless. What I mean to say is that I’m hoping gender can be a part of our discussion, because gender seems to be mostly discussed by women amongst themselves. And having said that, saying again that the question of the subject-object – because we know that there’s never one without the other, and as you rightly protested being cast as an object by me, I think about how I may not even protest my object status anymore, or rather, like the burnt cork, more figure out what’s the performative version of that status that I can stand and then, better still, try to orchestrate. And again, I think you do this throughout your work, accommodating or acknowledging that there’s a way you are a readymade creature of words, but that in that, you slip in shards of mirror and scraps of sentiment. I think sentiment is a good thing, I even like sentimentality (which you don’t use), just because I find it deeply human, and deeply dangerous.
Why did I launch in to a flatter version of what you are doing? In part, I suppose, over my anger at seeing some of these techniques used towards no different ends than the reification of the poet/Author that appropriation is supposed to upend. Partly because I want something more, the book, as you say, and we agree, to be the container of something that’s not just about itself.
You wrote about the haunting aspects of historical gender, and how you wanted to get away from them spooking the whole house. I don’t honestly know if they can’t help but. In this again, I think we agree in another sense – you want “tons more” mirroring of the culture. And both of us do this in our own funhouse way, and both of us do this spooked by our own ghosts, if I may say. My work tends to appropriate some extant text, but more appropriates extent privilege: I want to put on all sorts of masks and mirrors and make the putting on part of the performance. Blackface, whiteface, detachable penises and rubber vaginas, languages I know little about and some I know a little about, the points of view of small chubby children and sagging old men, it’s fiction on a half-shell, but then there’s the language, which is never ever dead to me, not real poetry. And by real poetry, I mean what Valèry said – the thing that makes you stop. Or say “stay.” This sounds terribly Romantic, and I guess it is. And part of my spooked gendered nature is that I want to be sort of Romantic, to stand spread-legged across the fruited plane (the Euclidean being much broader than even the Midwest, as you know) and go “I am.” And even though, like all petite prizes, there’s not so much there personally, what I’m shooting for here is the countercalling “me, too,” “and me,” “over here,” and “shut up, I’m trying to sleep.”
Maybe this is part of your alternative space; as you note, there’s all the other ways of taking ownership. And while I feel a little silly saying so (because it sounds, like disclaimers tend to, suspect), I don’t know if it’s ownership per se that I’m wanting. Maybe it’s just to make a loud noise. Or to put on the burnt cork so thick and rich that I pale in comparison – I and not-I, all at once, all together. I have this nagging feeling that I’m writing alongside you, rather than to you. I don’t want to. But this might be my version of your last response: cards on the table, so that whatever guide we end up with starts off in the head-shaved here.
You’re right as a reign about the overtly political writing, outdated, yes, and deadly dull, usually. It’s like how the best depictions of hell are not so much endless iterable damnation, but cornucopias of infernal delights and flights of flecked grotesquery. The elitism issue is an issue, unavoidable, I think, and thus, like gender, one to be taken head on -- I get accused of elitism all the time, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the accusation itself doesn’t bother me (except insofar as the accuser’s usually right up there with me) – there’s the measure of truth (white, American, steady relatively well-paying gig, more than most education, uppity to a rotten fault), and rather than try to prove some regular folk bona fides which I have and don’t have in various doses, it seems better to just admit and work with it. The how becoming, as you indicate, the better question.
So I end up at your new forms issue, and maybe the start again again of our conversation. The book, yes, the page, yes, the word, yes. Tell me how you make your books. I’m going though your list, but my autodidactism is impatient. How are you making your book now? How does all this get translated into that?



Monday, August 4, 2008

Chapter Two, Part Four

Outside the Military Medical Academy the rain was ending. Inside, the experiments of Dr. Voskressensky had stopped. Dr. Zeliony was planning what to do next. Dr. Lebedinsky would try taking into consideration the possible interferences of irradiation of inhibition of induction and the mean figures of the secretory effect of the five positive stimuli, averaged from a great number of experiments, collect money, food, clothing, bedding, and decide what differentiation became definitely established in spite of all these gross manipulations. Dr. Zimkin and Dr. Koupalov were able to make observations during the actual period of transition from the normal physiological state of the cortex to a pathological state, and then to study its therapy. The disturbance, however, went much deeper than this. Dr. Zimkin was going to leave the Los Angeles area. 

Inside the Congress of Natural Sciences, Dr. Zimkin didn’t see that the disturbances were so persistent as to require special measures, the flash of light in the sky. But Dr. Zimkin heard the shock wave and thought it was very evident that the variations in the chemical composition of the blood which resulted from excess of acid or alkali were differentiated by the cerebral termination of the chemical analyzer. 


Long before the inhibitory after-effect was tested, Dr. Zimkin knew that in similar experiments conducted by Dr. Frolov a modification was introduced by employing an inhibitory stimulus of greater intensity than the stimulus to the positive conditioned reflex. 

A second bomb had hit.

In the Congress of Medical Sciences, it was shown how internal inhibition, initiated in a single definite point of the cortical part of an analyser, rapidly irradiates over the whole analyzer, after which it is slowly concentrated upon its initial point.

The first bomb had struck about ten in the morning. The second one landed a little after noon. By two o’clock, Dr. Kalmykov tried to demonstrate the experiment in the presence of several visitors. The results were quite different: instead of the customary augmentation, the application of the inhibitory stimulus immediately before the positive one now caused a pronounced diminution in the positive reflex.

Though the relative strength of the reflexes remained unchanged, a general diminution in the strength of all the reflexes became apparent towards the end of the experiment. However, the effect of positive induction gradually makes itself felt at places nearer to the starting-point of the inhibition, and appears earlier after the incipient extinction. In other words, both as regards time and space, positive induction gradually overcomes and supersedes the inhibitory process.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

La Chine n'est pas une démocratie mais c'est un pays en paix

Could I stretch points to say the bird’s nest in Beijing is string theory blown to smithereens? Could I articulate a connection, dull as the side of a knife, between the cache (current) of conceptual writing and the collage (effect) of the montage (effect) of the September 11th? Could I maintain in argument that our May 1968 occurred later that very September (2001), but went for some time unrecognized because we assumed the face of the revolutionary would be unlined? Would dress left? Would clutch a big paper cup of coffee with room and eat egg whites, no bacon? Could I honestly admit that the crackdown of the Chinese is as open and accessible a face of a revolutionary culture as our own crackup? And as centralized? What does this have to do with our need to itemize? Or, as the soft-shoe crowd would say, fashion the indexical? Fashionable, I mean, I mean if I were saying what could be said. Could you stand to be so right?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Translation; or, The Ear

a dog without teeth

is not a dog
as long as you’re healthy
you can always
kill yourself
if you’re hanging
by one foot
you might just as well
be hanging
by both
if you can’t
go on
go underneath
you get old
as a cow
but you still
go on

Yiddish to English to a poem that exists on the page on the screen out of your head into the world. Translation of self in a new place. A giant ear listening to sounds of wind.

Translate transpose transparent transportation. Only animals with backbones have ears. Incoming waves of energy cause the eardrum to vibrate. When a fetus is aware of sound in liquid, listening beings.

Sit in the same spot for thirty-six days and see if it changes, if you change. Can there be no change? Sky is blue everyday but carries distinct tones among
yellow hills. Flat ground allows a view of what’s ahead. Curves produce transformation.

It’s not rain, it’s fog drip. A great-grandmother speaks Russian and Yiddish and English. She’s a seamstress. She goes back to school in the United States to get her high school degree. You don’t meet her, don’t know her, only recall photographs. Darkness and light.

"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught."

Foreign sounds or four and sounds. Somewhere someone is screaming. How do you make an entrance that’s not an exit? A blank page a blank screen a blank mind. Do you mind? You did but then you didn’t. You didn’t but then you did.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

One more from the Sawako Deluge

San Francisco:

I started writing this a while ago, then lost it before I could post, but now it only fits into this distended-time-idea I wanted to talk about, so I

[got cut off!] not going to change the "date of posting" which is available as an option to me.

Still thinking about time, and scale - as I learn Korean from Omoni (Omonim, to be polite), my mother-in-law. (That's not her name, it's just a polite way to say "mother.") The hierarchy in the language dictates that I cannot merely parrot what she says to me; my relationship to her warrants a different politeness when I speak to her, compared to when speaks to me. Just a simple "What - (what was that you said)?" - which is known to me as "muot?" - one syllable, literally the equivalent of "what?" - turns into "muorago hashosumnika?" - a mere seven syllables later - when speaking to Omonim. I've developed a very friendly "huh?" kind of non-verbal grunt, as compromise.

Which reminds me of this page (Japanese only, sorry) with features Chinese characters whose phonetic (Japanese) pronunciation is a bit long - my favorite is this one, ほねとかわとがはなれるおと "honetokawatogahanareruoto" - which translates to: "the sound of skin and bone separating." So many syllables for such a brief sound...or maybe not?

Meanwhile, Aaron Kunin is doing some hard-core academic work on character - on It-narratives, and the notion of Character as not "what defines a single, individual person," (the common way we think about character) but as "all the ..." oh crap how did he phrase it? In lieu of butchering it, I will say that it was a collective notion of character - either all the persons possessing such character, or all the instances of said character/characteristic, or... And the It-narrative was, apparently, a popular subgenre/form of prose in 19th-century Britain, where the protagonist would be some non-human object, traveling through society.

But I was thinking about this as I thought about the long accordions of time, sitting at the dinner table with Eugene's parents, noting characteristics in them - so many, it's disturbing, and curious - that I am so familiar with, via Eugene. And this strange sensation of being so far from someone, and yet feeling so much of his presence - no, his character - as placed on a fragmented, distended scale of time - displayed in increments in the proclamations, mannerisms, and facial features of his parents. Omonim pulls watermelon out of the refrigerator and raves: "It's so good when it's cold!" (I like fruit in both cold and warm temperatures) in exactly the same tone as I've heard Eugene say many a time, and I give up on any notion of individuality that I may have still harbored.

...but the biggest player in this theater is still Time and Space, no? (As I glance, embarrassedly, at the face of a pretty good estimation of what Eugene will look like in 25 years.)

The Bear Valley Massacre and the Making of History

To stay put in the same place for 5 weeks seems like a luxury of sorts. Regular access to regular speed internet seems like a luxury. Having my clothes in a closet seems like a luxury.

House/cat-sitting in San Diego, about to teach a summer session poetry class. Sad without Eugene, but three warm fuzzy cats fill the void, some part of it anyway. Just read The Bear River Massacre and the Making of History by Kass Fleisher. So much in this book - especially the "making of history" taken up as a large component of the book - interests me quite a bit. Of many things I could mention, one of the last sections I encounter, from Fleisher's final chapter, "Ten Digressions on What's Wrong:

Julia Penelope has pointed out, in Speaking Freely, a 1990 study of the gendered nature of language, that rape is almost always described using passive voice. 'Jane was raped.' Who raped Jane? Who bears responsibility? It is mighty rare indeed to hear, 'John raped Jane.' At best we might say, 'Jane was raped by John.' And that syntax has an important impact: we may hear then that John was the culprit, but since we say so in passive voice, it seems as if Jane is the subject of the verb was raped, as if Jane is the responsible agent here. As in, Jane got herself raped. It's subtle, but unmistakable.

Reminds me to go back to thinking about the meaning contained in grammar itself, including punctuation...a good time to revisit Stein. Go through your inboxes, everybody, and tell me who uses the most exclamation marks in their messages to you. (I have a theory!)

But that wasn't even the most salient quote from the book - just what happens to be on my mind today -

From the back cover, just so you know:

At dawn on January 29, 1863, Union-affiliated troops under the command of Col. Patrick Connor were brought by Mormon guides to the banks of the Bear River, where, with the tacit approval of Abraham Lincoln, they attacked and slaughtered nearly three hundred Northwestern Shoshoni men, women, and children. Evidence suggests that, in the hours after the attack, the troops raped the surviving women-an act still denied by some historians and Shoshoni elders. In exploring why a seminal act of genocide is still virtually unknown to the U.S. public, Kass Fleisher chronicles the massacre itself, and investigates the National Park Service's proposal to create a National Historic Site to commemorate the massacre-but not the rape. When she finds herself arguing with a Shoshoni woman elder about whether the rape actually occurred, Fleisher is forced to confront her own role as a maker of this conflicted history, and to examine the legacy of white women "busybodies."

[Okay, that was a little lazy of me to use the backcover blurb, but it's probably much more succinct than something I would have said. It's written in pseudo-blockbuster movie format though: "When XYZ happens, Fleisher is forced to confront her own role as..." - which is true, more or less. It's not quite as sensational, as it is...difficulty honest, so much so that she'll even own up to her "issues," as if pre-empting (or at least acknowledging) the forthcoming criticism. In fact, she invites it, on more than one occasion - which seems to be part of the project (and part of the fun). It's a terrific critique on history that uses, as only one of its tools, the storytelling gifts of a novelist. And I still feel like I haven't properly expressed how much I admire this book. I admire this book so much.]

Anyway, this book is labeled "Native American Studies" on its back cover - though it might also say Nonfiction/Gender Studies/American History/ there a term for the study of history? This book is a remarkable feat of crossing over between genres, that works hard to challenge the systems and authority of (educated) (white) (male) writing (storytelling) and publishing to which it belongs - meaning, this book makes no bones about showing the conflicted nature of the author herself as she takes on a difficult, sensitive subject - I'm quite sold on it.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Happy Man Makes Others Happy and Disturbed

A Happy Man and Other Stories continues to receive reviews. Check out these latest, at Pop Matters and Skylight Books blog.

"Little details disturb the normality of these stories: chairs have three legs; a homeless man becomes guardian over an entire forest."

"Is it possible to do both-be a vulture and appreciate something’s beauty? Yes, with "A Happy Man and Other Stories", it is more than possible. It is a must."

Monday, July 21, 2008


1. Mysterious installment 2 is being posted this week. I did not make the July 14 date for posting because of issues w/ Apple's new MobileMe thingy.

2. Have you checked out Beard of Bees? You really should.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chapter Two, Part Three

Outside the rain was ending. Inside, the prayers had stopped. People were planning what to do next. Some would try to return to their homes and their loved ones, collect money, food, clothing, bedding, and decide what evacuation route they would use in leaving the city. They all had their minds made up on one point. They were going to leave the Los Angeles area.

Inside the shelter, they didn’t see the flash of light in the sky. But they heard the shock wave.


Long before the ground began to tremble, they knew that their plans for immediate departure were going to be postponed.

A second bomb had hit.

In the shelter, the prayers began again, louder now.

The first bomb had struck about ten in the morning. The second one landed a little after noon. By two o’clock, the stink in the shelter was beginning to approach the nauseous stage.

Part of the stink came from sweat pushed out of human bodies by floods of fear. Most of it came from toilet facilities that had stopped working when the second bomb had knocked out the water mains.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Publishing and Writing

I've been invited to Monterrey, Mexico for the upcoming poLiteratura, IV Encuentro de Escritores Jóvenes del Norte de México y Sur de Estados Unidos <link and link>. Here is my paper, on the topic of "Book Mix: the publishers’ repercussion within the literary work of journalists-editors-writers."

Prefatory Notes

The we in this paper refers to Vanessa Place, Pam Ore, Sarah LaBorde and myself. The later we refers to only Vanessa Place and I, except when it also refers to Janice Lee and to the Les Figues Press board of directors and to the members of the Press, without which there would not be a we.

The Press, in this case, refers to Les Figues Press, an independent nonprofit literary publisher located in Los Angeles, California, committed to creating aesthetic conversations between readers, writers and artists.

Readers, writers and artists refers to the aforementioned we’s of the Press, for we are all readers, and many of us are writers, and now there are visual artists too, for the primary people who support the Press are artists and writers and readers of the avant-garde.

Avant-garde is a word that many people don’t like to use, and it embarrasses many people, and many people say the avant-garde no longer exists, and can not exist, and some like to explain how it’s a military term, meaning ‘before the guard,’ and do you really want to be associated with the military (you, who live in the United States, speaking English and publishing English-language work), and some think the avant-garde is really cool and romantic, and others ask, “Is the word avant-garde hyphenated or not hyphenated,” and the poet Eileen Myles says, “the term [is] a little pedantic, but if I’m not that [meaning avant-garde], what am I?”

Prefatory notes are thoughts, terms and ideas to be considered beforehand, before the real argument or the main points, which we anticipate will be clearly articulated in a formed structure, usually an essay, with an introduction, a body and a conclusion, or at least a beginning, middle and end. A formed structure is a built thing, like a building, like a government office, a bank, or a temple, and buildings adhere to mechanical principles, that’s what makes them stand, and the humans who go inside buildings adhere to rules of conduct, and that’s what makes a building operate as a structure for use.

Before we started Les Figues, we thought a lot about what we wanted to make and would it be square, like a government building, or round, like communities and geodesic domes, or would it be something small and red, something bird-sized and tunneled underground. Something people would have to believe in, because they could not believe out. And that’s what we picked—all of them. For as a nonprofit organization, we use the government’s definitions and structural parameters, and as a publisher, our primary project is an annual series of books called TrenchArt, which is curated to emphasis textual interconnection and author interdependence, and we know of no other literary publisher who is or has published work in this way, and so we made something people would have to believe in, something small and red, something inside.

To create something new is to make a change. New things are created everyday, and some new things are repetitions of the old, and some new things are riffs of other things, and some new things are just new.

Avant-garde is a term that has become useful to describe the work published by the Press, but it’s not a word I use to describe my own writing. That term doesn’t help me to think about my work, and so I don’t use it to refer to me or my writing.

Changing the World: Some people believe engaging in combat is best, because for them there is a clear right and a clear wrong, and those who agree with them are right and those who disagree are wrong. Other people believe the disagreeable ones would change their minds if they would just listen to the reasons they should. Others say the disagreeable ones are going through a phase, though the ones who say this have never personally gone through a such phase themselves. Still others talk about eggs. They describe eggs and make eggs—how do you picture an egg? An egg in its shell. A white egg, oval egg, chicken egg. A smaller, spotted blue egg. A round and brownish egg, soft like leather and deflating on the ground. A snake egg.

The egg explained: A moment ago, you were thinking about eggs, and the picture you were picturing started as one kind of egg before changing into another. This was a change of egg-ness, a change predicated on an image, predicated on something said aloud, something seemingly off-topic.

What I am Trying to Say: Everything I say here about the Press, I could also say about my writing. There are mechanical principles and narrative conventions, there are nouns and verb tenses and characters who do things, and letters are characters and so are the imagined others, I’s, She’s and We’s. I like to make things that look like one thing even as they contain another.

Les Figues publish books, but that’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to connect people to each other and to each other’s work. To read something and to be inspired, to be challenged or to be excited and to want to tell others, to want to read it again, to want to make something because of something you just read.

This is the writing I want to make.

I don’t think writing can be made alone, and certainly it doesn’t exist in aloneness. Writing needs readers, and readers need writing, and reading and writing connect people in unexpected ways. Like eggs.

Prefatory notes, continued, and how they related to publishing: Publishing is an act of anticipation, it is looking for what yet doesn’t exist, but what could, and maybe even should. The main body of a book emerges slowly, as that book’s place within a culture. Books published by small presses have a different shelf life than most books published by large, profit-driven publishers, because large publishers generally publish the thing that must be had right now, and of course now is always changing. Small press publishers publish work they love, because they love it, and they want that work to exist in the world for as long as possible. Many great books were first published by small presses, and those books still exist in the world and in the culture. [James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, and many many more.]

Thinking about the Others: This refers to authors and characters. As a publisher, I set my own writing aside to make books out of the writing of others. As a writer, I set my self aside in order to consider the subject of others. These considerations are, of course, filtered through the sack of consciousness which is me, but I’m okay with that contradiction. Imagining others is better than sitting around thinking about myself. Just like I wouldn’t want to publish only books by me or only we.

As a publisher: I see many versions of similar books, manuscripts in their unfinished form. It is surprising how many people are trying to write the same kind of thing, for people aren’t as unique as we might wish they were. As a writer, I’m a fairly critical reader, and as a publisher, I’m even more critical. This is good for my writing.

I know that becoming a publisher has affected my writing in certain ways. I am a better reader. I see how some people like some books and other people like other books, and both books can be very good books, so the goal is to try and make a very good book and some people will like it and some people won’t, and it can still be very good book.

Measuring the Immeasurable or What I am Trying to Say: I think my being a writer has affected Les Figues more than Les Figues has affected my writing. Because we always approached Les Figues as an aesthetic project, something to be made, in the same way that a writer would make a piece of writing. It’s always this question of what’s being made, and how does it function in the world, aesthetically and ethically, and as Les Figues is made by many we’s working together, a piece of writing is finally fully made by many we’s imagining together.

Final prefatory note before your response: Thank you in advance.