Google+ Badge

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tradition and the Individual Seismograph

Or, Developing the Historical Poetics of Lee Sharks’ “Pearl”
Johannes Sigil
from Pearl and Other Poems

Here is a little known fact: language is the medium of time. It is through it that we move to past and future, a “moon through the tender air.” The poet builds formal structures in language that iterate the substance of time, which tend it towards futurity. This is easy to see, looking backwards: “Howl” was a seed of time that grew into a viable present.

It is not so much images of the past that poetry creates for history (“the petrified remains of metaphor fragments”)—although it does do this. No, the poem’s most urgent function is to create that history of the present that disjoints it from itself; to fashion, within the present, a quality of time disjointed from the present, a pearl of unintelligibility that generates futures at a lateral angle, tangential to the course of historical time.

To achieve this, the poet willingly lives in a kind of temporal hell, “the wasteland a single metaphor could populate, if only there were any left.” He has doomed himself to this terra damnata of the historical present because of his allegiance to those other lost souls, called writers. Though the present hears, in these voices from the past, the chipper inanities of its own prerecorded voice (“thousands of scientifically identical plastic-flavored metaphors”), the poet knows they deny his present, just as they denied their own time. This communion by means of mutually incompatible presents (“an echo of parallel loneliness”) is a kind of hell, or, at best, a limbo, where Dante walks with the shade of Virgil: “the fading tactical resonance of what they used to mean.”

Thus, the poet lives in a historical hell. As a creature of his time, he is damned, and knows it: “Metaphors are dead / and moons no longer walk the earth.” Redemption might come to him through poetry, first in the form of reworking his personal history in such a way that it is bound to him in hell, a memento of his origins in the abysmal present, awash with its ugly light, but nonetheless tied to him in his exodus. This is redemption of the poet to himself. A second, greater redemption—the redemption that redeems him to eternity—is in the hope of sending this salvaged history—himself, his life—through time (“out into the night”), of finding the way—and there is only one—through to those futures which are being born, of finding his way to you, dear reader; the hope of blasting you from your tepid future into a timeless, historical hell: “no longer alone.”

This temporality has been called “the future.” It is the version of the present, in the form of a poem, that goes out in time, eventually replacing the shattered and abysmally tepid present with a brighter, historically purer anachronism: “a machine of living ghosts.” Telling stories about such movements through time is what we call “literary history.” And literary history, done right, is what we call “the history of the human race.” 

The poet is like a seismograph, “alert to your Morse-code blink.” The vibrations he records are frequencies of the future. The vibrations’ medium is tradition: the archive of the past, “a metaphor museum.” The poet listens for subtle lines of fracture in language. He scribbles vibrations in the crust of time, listening for the sequence that will signal the earthquake of the future. The metaphor is almost right, with one adjustment: if the poet is a seismograph, his object is the tremors that might CREATE, rather than simply record, the earthquake of the future.

His tools are what Eliot calls the historical sense, which encompasses both a grounding in one particular historical period, as well as a more general literacy of tradition, a sense of the way a tradition develops through time. His medium is the archive—seismographic records of the total history of vibrations in the substance of time. But though he learns from the archive, though these records are essential to his education in the art of time, the poet does not mistake the record for the reality: those vibrations are dead and gone, the earth has already shifted in that direction. Those voices show him the pathway that led to the present, and something of the structure of creating an earthquake. But they cannot show him beyond the present: “into a time so distant / not even my greatest metaphor could have walked halfway across.” He is, like they were, without a map: there is only one path to the future, and the map of the earthquake will be simultaneous with the instant of terrible shaking.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the quotidian poet, the poet who has invested time, energy, and skill, but who nonetheless remains strikingly unexceptional, is seen in this historical sense, or rather, its lack. This poet is always mistaking the record of the earthquake for the thing itself, burnt-out husks for actual moons. For him, the monument of the earthquake collapses, repeatedly, into the lifeless shape of its record. He cannot recognize the new, much less fashion it, because he does not recognize the old.

To put it in another way, the quotidian poet can see the poem as an artifact of time only from the perspective of its existence in the present—the way it is now, the meaning its form has currently, a “husk of the celestial boulder.” He cannot conceive of the poem as an artifact of charged time, before which time was different (“a thing, once sent, that cannot be called back”). He cannot conceive that time had a different shape—that there was no form of time quite like it, before the poem took shape. Most of all, he cannot begin to consider the poem’s most urgent message: I might not have been. The time you see in me would not have been, would not be, if not for me. For him, the history of literature rehearses what time is.

For the archival poet, the history of literature warns us of the fragile series of contingent steps by which we have arrived at the present, a record of the enormous weight of contingency: “ashborn / a germ of the seasonal fires.” This artifact testifies to all the shapes that are passing away at this moment, to the pressing demand of the future, its desire to come to be. The history of literature screams, “Don’t let us be the last!”

Though the poet does indeed create the future, bring it into being, this future is no more a random figment of imagination than is my beating heart. The future’s shape is prescribed on all sides by the nature of its medium, the archive (“compacted and polished in the heart of a muscle / around a fossilized shard of shrapnel”). Certain fault lines might move through this medium, triggering an avalanche. A poet finds those fault lines, and shapes time along the trajectories of the possible. 

This is not to say that the future is fixed—far from it. Not only is the shape the future will have up for grabs, so is the possibility of its existence. It is not historical necessity that the future come to be, or that the human race be born into it, forward. Nor is it to fix the past in a particular body of texts, a particular cultural lineage. We are headed somewhere, all of us, together.

Poetics must turn to the composition of archival forms that embody possible futures. I say “must,” not in the colloquial, common-usage sense of exhortation towards urgent action—“We must stop and ask for directions.” If there is to be a future at all, we must construct its archive now. Whether we will it or no, history demands an archival poetics, is calling it into being as we speak. 

(c) 2014 Johannes Sigil

from Pearl and Other Poems:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Make It Human

Make It Human
Lee Sharks

from Pearl and Other Poems

The New Human poetry began just now, when I announced it. It is a series of potent, distinct voices; historical trends; bulges in the social fabric; convening around a loose commitment to formal experimentalism and poetic humanism. It is perhaps the most urgent development in the human arts in the last hundred years, in English, and it consists in material I am making up just now: pseudonyms, fabricated Wiki articles, academic essays, fantastic biographies, and mythic anthologies. 

It is a social movement, an unfolding history, as poem, and I am writing it, right now.

The New Human poetry, rather than a discrete movement, attached to a series of formal principles, is the intensification of a history that is already happening.

Philosophically, it creates new humanisms.

Stylistically, it creates difficult experimentalisms, finding new crevices for the human to be born in and as: experimental lyricisms. 

Less than a specific constellation of formal commitments or stylistic tendencies, the New Human poetry represents a remainder or residue that cuts through a number of movements, from Conceptual writing to Alt Lit, Telepathicism, and the emergent hybrid workshop poem. The New Human poetry exists as a cross-section of contemporary formal developments. 

We have no definite formal dogma—how could we, when we believe that the human form must be constantly reinvented? Nonetheless, by its nature, the New Human gravitates to formal inventiveness, strange new configurations of human verse, and refuses to congeal poetry as the stale grease blob of one of its particular historical moments. We embrace a tendency towards the stylistically difficult, the formally experimental, but in the service of human expression—provided we understand the “human” in human expression as a concept that is always coming to be, evolving in time. 

A New Human poet knows that he must Make It Human. 

We adopt Language writing’s awareness of the artifice involved in the human, whether the artifice of the “transparent” lyric self with its narrowly prescribed logic of the epiphany of the daily, or the artifice that elides the very real presence and role of media in human interaction / expression: the artifice of the classroom, the school, the magazine, the press—we understand the ways in which the c.v. is a form of poem.

Even as we reject the petty presentism and prejudice of the Language poets. We understand the vital role they played, the traction those qualities gained, historically, but we reject their rejection of tradition.

At the same time, we reject the Philistinism of the hyper-traditionalists, the formally retentive jurisprudence verse police state whose anthem declares, “This is not a poem.” A New Human poet is one who knows that transcribing an issue of the New York Times might very well be a poem, might represent the hope of poetry, and therefore the hope of humanity. All day long I pray for the transformation of urinals into poems, and vice versa.

Make It Human.

In every generation, the HUMAN enters by the narrow door. Made humans. Human makings. Homo poeticus. 

A New Human is an invented thing. One cannot find it in the wild, by wandering through decrepit forests. 

“The human” is at stake, “the human” is up for grabs. Craft, twist, carve memorable protrusions of the human in language, which is the same as the human in time.
It is not that the human is out there, somewhere, an essential quality or radioactive dye of eternity we might inject into the bloodstream of certain poetic forms, an investiture. It is that the human has always and only been found is such elongated protrusions, such memory-quirky fingerholds, called poems. By such means, we have scaled the rock wall of history, one trembling toehold at a time. If we are lucky, we will continue to do so.

Falling off the cliff is a very real possibility, a historical mise-en-abyme, that most so-called poetic schools—certainly, the polar extremes of the experiment-workshop divide—have done a very good job of eliding. 

To the workshop camp: It is very well that you imagine your uncertain perch to be a pinnacle, those toeholds clinging to to be essential essences, which have been from the beginning of time, and will be forever and ever, Amen. But we are dying of thirst, you nitwit. 

To the Language writers, the Conceptual poets: I say thank you. By infallible proofs, you have demonstrated, sufficient for any thinking person, that those little fingerholds are not eternal essences, that they occupy a very certain phase on the cliff of human history. And yet, I should think throwing oneself off the cliff to be a demonstration of somewhat limited usefulness. It does, quite thoroughly, show the historically situated, the temporal and spatial contingency of the formal aberrations by which we have, with difficulty, attained these meager heights. But you will be dead, when you hit the bottom. 

Make It Human. It must be made. It requires art, a total art, the commitment of the total being. Of all the many functions of the multiform human mountain climber, we poets are the fingers, finding purchase. We seek, in the stinking dark, the very first tactical echoes of the indentations of the future. We are very sensitive fingers. We grip and shape those indentations, into protuberances with sufficient roughness of texture to bear the human weight. 

Genetic engineering. Artificial intelligence. We’ve arrived at the 21st century: the ever-shrinking boundary between the material and digital worlds, converging on a total presentism of the archive; the spread and endemicization of statistical science, the ever-broadening automation of its complex functions; a world in which the informatic representation of the human is more total, more complete, in an unprecedented way; even as it is flat, dead, cut off from life. The human keeps changing; its digital representation is a lifeless rind, vulnerable to manipulation by any animate power. What is the poet’s role, vis-à-vis the datascape?

Make It Human.

Formally, this means the aesthetic incorporation and representation of these media, the ways these media effect and interact with the human being, and vice versa.

Stylistically, this means the artful concentration of those natural deformities of human language under the pressure of this particular species of novelty. 

Here, we touch on an example that walks the same razor’s edge that the New Human poetics must walk: Flarf. On the one hand, Flarf seems to jump off the cliff of history. On the other, it shows us the way forward. Flarf has a very traditional function, to aestheticize, to organize the chaos of these new digital circumstances and contexts which threaten to distend the human out of existence; in the same way that Homer aestheticized war, not to celebrate it, but as a measured response to its senselessness, a movement within and through that senselessness that made a way for history to travel beyond it. 

That’s what beauty is, that tenuous form of formal courage in the face of formless things. So, too, Flarf, though it is rarely practiced, and even more rarely theorized, under the auspices of aesthetic redemption of the datascape, nonetheless might serve that function, touching on android love elegies existing in random configurations of search string space.

(c) 2014 lee sharks
also (c) 1446 Tea Time AD, the Ghost of Christmas Future

Friday, February 20, 2015

ON GRADING: The Parable of the PEZ Dispenser

On Grading:
The Parable of the PEZ Dispenser

A young woman with good grades approached Damascus Dancings, to test him. “Teacher,” she addressed him, “you have said that your students shall receive new grades, which have not before been graded, such as the grade of ‘unicorn+.’ All my life have I applied myself to study and to virtue, in order that I might receive a grade of ‘A’ and ‘A+.’ Such grades have I received—to overflowing—and yet I am dissatisfied.

Tell me, what must a righteous student do, to receive a grade of ‘unicorn+’?”

Damascus Dancings replied, and said, You have said, “I would do anything, for a grade of ‘unicorn+,’” and freely do I award you a grade of 'unicorn+++.' But in the silences of your heart are you troubled: “Now that I have received a grade of ‘unicorn+++,’ the only place left to go is down. Down is the only place left to go, after receiving a grade such as this.”

Assuredly, I say to you, you must shatter the stone tablet of ‘unicorn+,’ and all dead grades of all stone tablets, which have become a heavy stone—and you in the river—to travel the tractless steppes of new value, and invent new grades, and inscribe them on stone tablets, and award them to your own self.
‘Banana-rama ©%,’ is a grade you could give yourself, if you dared to smash the stone tablets; and then your down-going would be your going-over, and in the selfsame movement would you sink and rise. Therefore I give you a grade of ‘banana-rama+,’ I give you a grade of ‘™%,’ I give you a grade which is a smashing of grades, its own down-going and going-over.

For I have not come for the dispensing of grades, but in order to dispense with grades.

Go then. Shall I dispense a grade? I shall not dispense a grade.

Shall I tilt back my head, and become a dispenser of ‘pezcore%’?
God forbid.

It would be better for you to receive a grade of ‘Banana D-,’ and become sick with receiving, and thereby bruised, and learn to hate the stone of grading, than that you should receive a grade of ‘pezcore%’ from me, and be therein satisfied, and say to your self, “Pezcore% is become a measure of value, overturning all prior values, and establishing itself in the plastic neck of history, a dispenser to end all dispensers, until the end of time.”
Go then.

Better that you should award Damascus Dancings himself a grade of ‘Banana D-%,’ or ‘Ugly Triple Pudding-,’ and thereby remember the grader within you—that you and every other is an inscriber of stone tablets, and a dispenser of ‘pezcore%,’ and that neither grade, nor value, nor ‘™spaceship++%,’ contains within itself any candy, but the dispenser of candy has within itself candy, the same who assents and denies.

Go now, and be you a dispenser of ‘unicorn+,’ and new grades, which have not before been graded.

Thus spoke whatshisname, Damascus Dancings, and the academics were filled with wonder, and mutterings, for he spoke as one with authority.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

ON TEAMWORK: Damascus Grants Authority over Mind Control Powers

ON TEAMWORK: Damascus Grants Authority over Mind Control Powers

All things are possible, when you are part of a team. Those who are part of a team will say to the mountain, "Leap!" And the mountain will not leap. Then they will try a second time, more politely, "Excuse me, I'm trying to get by," and the mountain will get out the way.

Wherever two or more are gathered on a team, and believe my words, whatsoever they shall command together, telepathically, using mind control powers, the same shall be accomplished that very hour. A mountain falls on your face, and crushes it, and then a planet falls on your face. Under the mountain and the planet, your face is all f**ked up, from being crushed, and also you are getting hungry, because you are dead. All this presses and crushes about you, and yet all you do is complain and whine, because of a pain level 10. (What do you THINK my pain level is? Do you see the PLANET on my FACE?!) Anyways, you're dead and stuff, but you haven't used telepathy in my name. Why not? I just told you you have badass mind control powers, but you are just sitting there, by yourself, not part of a team, not even attempting telepathy. Go, stand you together with your brother-sister, any who is called by my name, and use your words to get stuff done: "Get off my g**damn face!" and the planet flies away. "My nose is sore as f**k, because a mountain crushed it, and also I am dead--enough!" and the mountain transforms into gummy bears, and 46 tiny plastic surgeons rearrange your face, in a good way, and also you are no longer dead.

Now go, for I have given you authority over telepathy, with words and stuff, and mental powers, and whatsoever you command in my name will be done.

Then Damascus got onto a boat with his people, and sailed down the river Kwanza to a desolate place, where he could read and think.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lame #opera












@SharksLee Dala horse anxiously awaits photo of Pluto, accidentally bleaches the good towels, turns in rough draft as final. #itisvery
2:59 PM - 10 Feb 2015

@emenberg Depressed horse tries to lie on back like human man, becomes even more depressed
8:29 AM - 11 Feb 2015

@SharksLee Dala horse creates special hammock for depressed horse friends to sleep on their backs, is now sad that horses want to do so. #Description: �

@emenberg depressed horse creates pamphlet detailing benefits of sadness for the examined life, starts mailing list

@SharksLee Dala horse strangles self in hammock. Apologizes to God for wanting to be man. #horsesonpluto4eva

@SharksLee #thatsinferringalot #Ifeellikeyoureverypreoccupiedwithherpes#ImimmunetoherpesbecauseIdontuseyrmilkshakestraw #texmexandherpes