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.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


In For a New Novel* Alain Robbe-Grillet talks about take the human out of writing. He in a sense aims at the objective—to make objects themselves again rather than the containers for human metaphorical constraints. A table is a table not something “resting in the room like a cooling board” for example.

What Robbe-Grillet says in this book touches on my concerns about how nonhuman animals, plants, etc. are used in literature to the end of further expressing the human while masquerading as work about these others. (To recognize the other, recognized the incontrovertible space between the self and the other). Robbe-Grillet articulates, for me, something I’ve had much trouble articulating. Why much nature writing, nature poetics, (I’m not in the mood to name names) seems simple arrogance because it ends up claiming everything is ME (I am an infant all I see is me—or maybe just a lot of Agent Smith’s).

So for the other to enter the text, according to Robbe-Grillet, we must remove the metaphor.

I’m not very good at this—writing away the metaphor. In my present manuscript I am struggling with my desire to present the other, nonhuman, as a separate entity—this particular crow juvenile I saw in the rose garden. How its feathers lay how it called beak open for food the sound. What, oh what, did it feel. How can I write the crow without writing dark and a murder of them. All of these, the two crows on the branch between billowing plastic this morning, the group of crows flocking, the big crow baby begging (a loaded word if there ever was one), a murder of crows, crows dying crows mourning, all of these cluster in my mind and I cannot seem to escape them into objectivity in my writing unless I am writing N=2 crows at transect 1x3.

And this two fledglings, this crashed on the sidewalk—ring the dead with roses they only lived a short time. A skritch, a sketch—out of time, out of mind.

So…I’m allowing my present manuscript to be what it is. Maybe next time I’ll do nonhuman better. Or not. How’s this for a try—RO WS forced extra pair copulated (FEPC) SE BW in the morning light.

And you know what—perhaps that I in the metaphor—that human in the metaphor, if done right, tells us that in fact, though the I, the human, is not all there is, it is all we can know.

(*A book I have to credit Debra DiBlasi—she mentioned it somewhere, I cannot remember where—I would not have necessarily discovered it otherwise).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sentence first, verdict afterwards

Bastardized from Alice's Adventures Underground (to be exact: "No!" said the Queen, "first the sentence, and then the evidence!"). Noticing an increasing, or increasingly annoying, tendency towards essay-poetry. Essay as in polemic passing as pondering, essay as in trying. The antidote to the easy epiphany of easy lyric poetry should not be pendanticism, at least not with line-breaks or periods that show no sense of spotting. In other words, sending forth theory & praxis before the poem, like slipping a bell on the cat to prove, in the ringing, that it is the cat that's coming, and not the gardener, is not only intellectually shallow, but belies both the notion of the object-text and the demos of the graphic reader. Either the evidence proves the point or there's no point in having a jury. In other words, there appears to be a correlation between the prowess of the poem (articulated or latent) and the poet's ability to step away from the thing and let it do its own ontological heavy-lifting. In other words, yes.