James Pate - The human sand pink and the pig wall burnt. The beach light bright in the pig eye.



James Pate, The Fassbinder Diaries, Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2013.

The gauze of James Pate’s nightmare, critical & cinematic beauty keeps rising & falling on a “crimson couch,” “a scarlet curtain” & a “crisp red light”—like Homer’s rosy-fingered dawn. & like Homer the language is measured, simple & deliberate. Noble. But detonates in “torturous rampaging music”—in the “the lemon of the pig. The glory and run-off of the pig.” The nightmare is inside. & the nightmare is outside. & the critic is a man. & the critic is a woman. & the Fassbinder film just keeps on playing—“in a haze of pink dust.”– Rauan Klassnik

Raised in the urban ruins of Memphis Tennessee, in the wake of riots and assassinations, James Pate’s fantasies and visions draws on the occult atmosphere of devil-blues, underground trash and gothic pageantry. His work inhabits a saturated zone of violence and artifice, hate and love. For the past 15 years he has been one of my favorite writers and closest collaborators. – Johannes Goransson

James Pate draws the veins together with this pulpy ode to Fassbinder. It’s burnt with shades of Klassnik & Kitchell, Evenson & Glenum, but it’s also its own night raid—these poems read like the transcript of a documentary about two sexless artists as they run loops of long-dead film stock through a haunted Arriflex, dying to record blood-slicked mannequins lit by meat locker fluorescents. Pate gets it. – Ken Baumann 

James Pate’s The Fassbinder Diaries is definiely one of the best books of this ludicrous year. I have waited for this book to be published for many years, as long as I’ve been reading James’s writing. It’s not strange that this book doesn’t read like a first book – that it reads like someone who has definitely found his stride, is working in a beligerent zone – because James has been writing amazing stuff for years. In the perfect literary world, he would have had several books published by now.
silly pastel boy
I’ve been reading his work for many years. I met him when we went to grad school together in Iowa. He’d come from Memphis and I had come from NYC (Queens!), we both loved blues music and Wu-Tang Clan, Basquiat, b-movies and Godard (In fact used to be so obsessed with old-school blues music that I wanted to move to Memphis). James was already incredibly well-read and he introduced me to a lot of work I still love: for example Jack Smith, early Don Delillo (Running Dog, Great Jones Street, I hate the later stuff) and Twin Peaks. So we became friends. We watched movies until we fell asleep. I remember/don’t remember one particular night when we Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising stoned and exhausted.
I love the way James talks about art: a pornographic experience. “My hands started shaking,” I remember James saying about the first time he read Bataille’s Blue of Noon. But he has a similar attitude towards less obviously pornographic books, for example some mystic from the middle ages or Foucault.
When asked what his religion was, James would always answer “fallen catholic,” and “fallen” here is very instructive: fallen as in the tenor of the allegory is lost, we have been plunged into the saturative textures and gleaming fabrics of a ritual whose God is dead.
pierrot
Cannibalism, pornography, b-movies and, most importantly, the physicality, the materiality of the artistic experience are key ingredients of James’s work.You can already see it in “12 Resolutions to a New Year,” a story he wrote while we were in grad school, and which I later published in Action, Yes. It’s one of my all-time favorite stories. The series of poems or piece of film (many of James’s poems/stories have the feeling of being a part of a film where we only get a glimpse of the overall film, or the feeling of two films roughly sutured) are held together by the figure of Fatty Arbuckle who seemingly murders the two lovers who come to see his movies in some dank Memphis theater.
fatty
Fatty Arbuckle is the perfect figure for James’s work because of his obesity (James’s characters love to eat or are starving or are desperately trying to stuff themselves, conditions that stand in for his vision of art), his sordid biography (accused of having killed a prostitute by giving her an illegal abortion) and because of the obscurity of his later career:
There are twelve stories about Fatty Arbuckle, and this might be the final one. We know how he spent (wasted, drank through, destroyed loved ones, burnt beds, to be seen in nickelodeons nodding off on junk and gorging pig-like on duck and busting heads and breaking hearts) his final decades. Because of the underground nature of his later years (basements and brothels and dank laboratories and warehouses and seashells) we can only hope certain makeshift records (napkin poems, restroom wall sketches, carvings in trunks, nails through voodoo dolls, digits sent to ex-lovers, whispers floating back off ocean breeze, legends from El Salvador, French myths, personally performed porno in blurred film stock, corpses in floor boards, postcards to cousins, a jam session on tape with Fatty on tenor) appear from the rivers of far drums. We wish ourselves luck.
Particularly because of this obscurity. Unlike the common “accessibility” debates, the obscurity doesn’t interfere with the communication of a meaning, but enhances the affectivity of the textures, the art. In this James’s writing is a close relative of Roberto Bolano’s stories. And like Roberto Bolano’s stories, James’s writings are on one level always about art. And the art is simultaneously physically overwhelming and obscure/apocryphal. In fact the two do no contradict each other but enhance each other: the obscurity is part of the materially overwhelming aspect of art. The Fassbinder Diaries are full of this. In fact the entire book starts out with:
The first scenes are silent. The footage is grainy, as if the world being shown has gone through a storm of broken glass shards.
And ends:
The entire factory or bedroom or meadow dripping light from its lips. Or maybe delicate drops of acid have eaten the scene. There are figures on the ground, silently squirming. But it’s impossible to tell if they are silent because they are silent or if they are silent because this is a silent film. We are watching them in the dark. It is a black-and-white dark. Outside, it is a black-and-white dark.
There’s the sense the materiality of the movies – the graininess, the wear and tear – is part of the viewing experience, enhances and intensifies the experience, and that the physical setting of the film might be part of the movie.
fassbinder
And there’s this great love of the apocryphal, the rumored, unofficial artworks that create a kind of “invisible republic” (to quote Greil Marcus, another lover of this occult space) that feels both incredibly intimate and absolutely convulsed with politics. For example, Franz and Mieze from Fassbinder’s “Alexanderplatz, Berlin” appear as characters in James’s book, but they not only act out scenes not in Fassbinder’s original (or the novel on which his piece is based), but they also watch a whole host of strange films:
Franz said bite me here, and Mieze bit him there, and Mieze said bite me here, and Franz bit her there. The curtains were closed. They were the color of gray snakeskin. Outside, a war developed in Berlin. A gun fired at Dillinger on a movie screen in Chicago. They were someplace else. The seconds were already ahead of them, waiting with their guns pulled. An alley with no escape.
More than any other writer I know, James revels in the apocryphal, the sense of the fan fiction as a perversion of the official account of things. Mieze for example believes that the rumored death of Paul McCartney during Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band is actually true. Or in another piece, there’s one female and one male Mick Jagger (and they hate each other) (I talk about this poem here and James’s work as fan fiction here.)
In keeping with this love of the apocryphal, The Fassbinder Diaries is full of snippets of film, full of little narrative glimpses. In a US poetry world where narrative has become something tasteless (un-”experimental”, basically b-movie), James’s deployment of narratives seems incredibly powerful and affecting. And these narratives create an atmosphere of intensive melancholy nostalgia. But it’s not nostalgia for something (say the 1950s) but saturated atmosphere without an original, without a home or stable ideal. In Freud’s distinction between melancholy and mourning, mourning is healthy – we identify the damage, then greive it and get over it – while melancholy is neurotic. In James’s writing, the melancholy cannot be overcome, the poems are dense with it.
YiSang-776989
And maybe the most melancholic figure – or the most representative figure – is the “film critic” whose “diary” this entire book might be:
The film critic tosses a slice of tuna to his orange and slender and expectant cat. The film critic argues with her mother while watching Klaus Kinski stride about in the rain, violet flashes of lightning in the mountains behind him. The film critic walks through one hallway after another, hearing a cellphone ring behind a distant door. The film critic dresses up as a dead Marilyn Monroe for Halloween. The film critic pours a bottle of wine over her bed while arguing with her husband over the phone, it saturates the sheets, it dribbles on the wood floor. The film critic plays a Johnny Cash CD during intercourse with the woman he met at a midnight showing of Liquid Sky. Behind them is a table with four empty cans of beer and a deck of old Soviet playing cards. The film critic cuts her hair in the mirror. She cuts it short. Then shorter. From an apartment across the alley comes the sound of salsa music playing. It is 3:12 in the morning.
Unlike the stereotypical Critic, the “film critic” is no rational evaluator: he/she can’t keep the movies straight, can’t distinguish between “life” and “the movies”, can’t even keep the Art out of the bedroom. Or worse yet, can’t keep art out of the outside (or inside).
First-Supper
*
But it’s not a gentle melancholy his Fassbinder melancholy. As I said, there’s a sense of the apocryphal being convulsed with the political, and the epigraph of the book tells us that “… hate is a passion / and that’s near to love anyway” (Marine Girls, “Tutti lo sanno”), the intensity of the affect in his Fassbinder world is also full of aggression and what might be hate (or love):
Pig Radio
There was always Pig Radio.
You can hear it later in the night.
When I listen I think of angels in pink surgical gowns.
I think of shaved cats that look like small pigs.
I think of shaved human heads that look like starved pigs.
I think of thin kisses followed by thick kisses.
I think of the parts of us that spew.
There are so many parts of us capable of spewing.
Maybe there will be more parts soon.
Parts capable of spewing further and further.
At some point we could spew and spew.
I want to leave the thickest of pink stains behind.
Buy this book, it’s really spectacular. - Johannes Göransson


  My favorite music videos were always the ones that looked like the bands had been locked in a house somewhere, forced to take part in a nightmarish Kenneth Anger or David Lynch movie. The images and sounds would shift so fast you wanted to see it and hear it again immediately to try and figure out what exactly the fuck you had just witnessed. That mutating is also one of my favorite modes in books—where the text is at once so spasmodic and so sure of itself, in its own logic, that where you end up could be achieved through no other means.
There are so many styles and modes at work in the 119 pages of James Pate’s The Fassbinder Diaries that you begin to feel kidnapped. There are many processes and perspectives turned on and left running all at once. The book begins with the description of some cryptic film populated by glass shards and mangled bodies; then suddenly we are watching others watch a Pasolini film before they go to bed; then, just as quickly, we are in the memory of another movie, full of elderly nuns and a masturbating boy, a Nazi flag hidden in a drawer. The book is full of cryptic rumors, half-remembered visions, and everyday images tied into the absurd, like an elevator on a beach releasing pink mist. This world, however, clearly touches the human one: cultural icons like The Beatles and characters from Rainer Werner Fassbinder films appear alongside nameless perverts and on one page even panthers pop up and then disappear, continually reminding us the book’s world is contained within ours.

Page by page the book continues to open and pile on itself, building as it goes a kind of catalog of cryptic films and sound, all of it laced together by the body of the book and coming open in odd places, with sudden images from nowhere like: “A pig can vibrate upon birth.” And “A red smear in an empty house, an isle covered with bird shit.” From jump to jump there builds a strange, hypnotic music, one which by the end has seemed to wrap around the reader like a film that never ends, insisting you stay in it alongside all the other images its captured. By the end, it is an experience more immediate and thrilling than one expects in such a small place, and lingers thereafter like a video you flipped to late one night on some shitty TV in a strange house and felt infatuated with or hypnotized by and never saw again. - Blake Butler


To view a Fassbinder film:
  1. You must possess simultaneous restlessness and patience (as in life)
  2. You must be prepared to watch characters continue on paths they seemed doomed to repeat, self-destruct once they break free (as in life, perhaps helplessly watching a drug addict or alcoholic friend; Fassbinder died too young due to drugs, age 37)
  3. You must understand that the film you are watching is a life, a poem-life, and there are no rules, no confined spaces
  4. You must adopt the German eye, seeing everything via what Roger Ebert called Fassbinder’s “tight, observant visual style”
  5. You must be able to see the film grain while you watch it to appreciate its contribution to the haunting, dark-desolate feeling it produces within you
It’s fair to say that these rules also apply when reading James Pate’s The Fassbinder Diaries. I am particularly intrigued by Pate’s work—he boldly merges his own reality, various films, and poetry without being overtly self-referential. Pate calculatingly blends all three components above and then pours them smoothly upon the page—each experience, however, still retaining its visceral essence—what amounts to a “word-Pollack.”
Like a keen filmmaker, Pate understands colors and textures—they permeate this book. The cover image offers up repetitious, dream-like images and gradients; grainy black & white and deep, blood reds. The opening pieces in the first section of the book complement the cover, offering resonant language slivers such as:
“the world / through a storm of broken glass”;
“warm dark”   and    “cold dark”;
“streaming rivulets”;
“white, black / and acid“;
Pate also clearly appreciates the perspective of poet as director—he is not passive within his world, though he is ultimately still the observer. He projects. He offers us shadows, light, temperature, taste, consistencies, sounds, and plenty of hot sex.
In addition to the feast of stunning cinematic images extracted from both Fassbinder’s work and Pate’s fantasy/reality, the reader is also introduced to another layer, or dimension, of ekphrasis in this book: the original response (the book itself) questions the reader for her response via a series of multiple Q&A sections that follow each segment of the book. Each group of queries asks: were we (the reader) paying attention to our (implicit) scenes? To our own characters? To the moments in time in which we experienced these poems? To our sexuality? What is known about Fassbinder or Pate? Most importantly, do the two become one-in-the-same in this book?
As I read Pate’s book, I consider the question above, and I particularly think of Fassbinder’s film, Veronika Voss, which, like most all of Fassbinder’s work, contemplates post-war German trauma and the German psyche. Most importantly, however, in this context, it explores two themes: dichotomous people and the idea of life imitating art.
In Veronika Voss, an aging film star (a Monroe-equivalent in her heyday) represents Germany itself. She is struggling to come out from under a horrific regime, unable to face reality. She is fed a constant stream of morphine by a lover/doctor/puppet-master, Dr. Marianne Katz, keeping Voss in a state/haze of delusion. So the internal conflict: old Germany and the new—there is a “war” within our anti-heroine, exemplified by the ongoing pendulum of behavior we witness: her dependence upon past propaganda/self-image (delusions of grandeur) to shape her current reality, and the reality: uncertain and drug-blurred. Also, the characters in Voss all desire commonality/simplicity to set them free, yet find no solace in being the controlled nor the controllers.
In Pate’s book, three exceptional things are happening that mirror the structure of Voss:
1. We are watching life imitate art
As mentioned earlier, Pate’s book is based upon reality mixing with what’s happening on-screen (the poet is watching the film, and notates this for the reader—when he watched X film, he was here, doing X, when he watching Y film, he noticed his surroundings here, etc.). And like the character of Voss, the reader satisfyingly succumbs to not knowing what is real anymore.
In the poem, “One Summer Continuous Hot and Glaring #1”:
“My life a film nobody including myself wanted to cast.”In the poem, “3:04”:
“Franz said bite me here, and Mieze bit him there, and Mieze said bite me here, and Franz bit her there. The curtains were closed. They were the color of gray snakeskin. Outside a war developed in Berlin. A gun fired at Dillinger on a movie screen in Chicago. They were someplace else.”

We are being simultaneously controlled while controlling
The reader is hypnotized by existential moments in this book, becoming possibly submissive to the power of the work, while also maintaining dominant position as the reader: surveying the text (omniscient POV). In other words, the reader is seduced and voyeur—watching the poet watching films, watching the poet experience life, watching the poet react.
In the poem, “Chekhov’s Firearm”:
“The woman who played my torso and the man who played my tongue and the flayed rabbit that played my brain…and the million tongues of grass licking at nothing that played my hair and the scorched dollhouse…and the suicidal movie star that played my lungs and the electrical outlet that played my mouth waited in the field for me to fire my gun.

3. Stark narrative fuels power
Propaganda in Germany codified its strength over the people. Pate uses a precise narrative style, fused with raw imagery, to create the same effect.
In the poem, “Extraction #1”:
“The wolves made volcano noises. The owls made bone noises. The snakes made June noises. The vultures made scarlet noises.  The panthers made soundtrack noises. The bears made lunar noises. The butterflies made gunfire noises.”


That the opening segment of the book is subtitled, “The Ascension of Veronika Voss,” in my opinion, reinforces my extreme attraction to it as the nucleus of this book. Not only is Voss referenced (cleverly connecting the reader to the above-mentioned forces of the book) but also, Pate shows us provocative film energy via white-hot projective language. The Fassbinder Diaries is a mesmerizing response to the director’s work—a hungry film in of itself that demands multiple views. - Lina ramona Vitkauskas


An excerpt from The Fassbinder Diaries:
The Double Life of Mick Jagger
I.
There was this one time at a party in Detroit, this Christmas party. In 2003 or 2004. I was in the bathroom washing my hands and two women walked by outside and one said to the other that the other night she’d had a dream where Mick Jagger was trying to seduce her, except in the dream he was a woman. The other woman outside the door said he was a kind of woman. His mouth, she said, was a kind of vagina. And that exchange made me want to write a poem about that idea. About Mick Jagger’s vagina. I tried it the next day. My window overlooked a pawnshop with a shitload of lights flashing in the window. I came up with a poem about a couple, a man and a woman, and they both looked like Mick Jagger, and in a sense they both were Mick Jagger.
II.
In the hotel room in the poem the female Jagger will dress the male Jagger in whore clothes, call him whore names. The male Jagger will think during such episodes of how the meat inside of him could build a massive cathedral should it ever be extracted from his body. That is, if you took the meat and pounded it flat. And used quite a bit of metal wiring. His eyes could be in the center of the cathedral either in the floor and looking up or in the ceiling and staring down. Either way they would never blink. And his teeth. What could they do with his teeth.
III.
You fuck, the female Jagger will say, like a whore. You fuck, the male Jagger will say, like a porn film with the furniture scratched out.
IV.
Yet they do not know they are part of the same person. They do not realize their separate essences will only be reunited upon death.
V.
I was rereading Helter Skelter around this time. I was listening to some of the songs from the Manson family around this time, pretty songs sung by young women with childlike and fairylike voices. The two Mick Jaggers would be killed by a hitchhiking serial killer, a thug with a red mohawk. They would die on a bright June morning, in the silence of an Iowa cornfield. Did I hate them, the two Jaggers? I did not hate them. But I liked to think that in some way they hated each other.
VI.
The crows will eat the hearts of the Mick Jaggers. Plastic crows. Lipstick hearts.

A Brief History of the Beatles
Mieze said to me earlier in the week that as a teenager she’d been obsessed with the possibility that Paul really was dead, that the rumor from the 60s had been right after all, that a bland fake Paul had for decades lived under the name and sign of the actual boyish and endearing Paul, and that the most haunting lyrics from any song ever was probably I Buried Paul murmured during the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Mieze said to me later in the week that “Helter Skelter” was the song that turned into a crime that turned into a made-for-TV movie.

Revolution Number Nine
Mieze sits on the hotel bed smoking a cigarette.
By her knee is an ashtray and a pair of sunglasses.
She has recently showered.
Her hair is wet and her cheeks are flushed.
She is tired and sunburned and excited and hungry.
Franz is under the covers pretending to be asleep.
Franz listens to himself breathing.
He is tired and sunburned and drifting and hungry.
From the room next door comes music.
It is a low murmur.
Franz can barely hear it.
Mieze can hear it a little better.
She is younger and less sleepy.
The Beatles.
One of the ballads from The White Album.
The television glows.
The screen shows 7,000 figures writhing in the mud.
Or 8,000.
Because the picture is grainy it could be a cartoon.
A cartoon drawn in a crudely realist style.
Or the actors could be electrified mannequins.
And therefore not even alive.
And therefore not even dead.
Many wear black masks and black gloves.
A midnight ball strewn across the mud.
An evening dance left out in the rain.
The ballad ends. “Revolution No. 9” begins.
The curtains are closed.
The curtains are the color of dried rose petals.
The sun is out.
The sun lights the curtains.
Franz thinks it is around four in the afternoon.
Mieze thinks it is around two in the afternoon.

Extraction #1
The man without air used his stomach muscles to center himself in the middle of the field. He used his jaw muscles to extinguish certain ideas he had only come to understand recently. He used his skull muscles to watch films involving parades of pork moving through cities of delicate snow. He used his spine muscles to extract newer and drier shadows from a previously dribbling haze. Behind the purple curtain the 19th century withdrew. Behind the scarlet curtain Marilyn Monroe prepared for the Day of the Dead Mass. Behind the coarse curtain the sea tossed about like houses tumbling from clouds.
The man was dead and had recently been stuffed with salt and black feathers. The part of him that had been dead longest heard voices that whispered from a closet stuffed with white and lemon dresses. The part of him that had been alive furthest waited for the dresses to melt so he could lick their drippings from the floor.
Neither the alive nor dead part had ever waited longer than cloth. Neither the longest nor the furthest had grown past the customary whisperings.

But other sounds continued. The soundtrack dealt with 17 recurrent noises. Other recordings played through the foggier arenas. The wolves made volcano noises. The owls made bone noises. The snakes made June noises. The vultures made scarlet noises. The panthers made soundtrack noises. The bears made lunar noises. The butterflies made gunfire noises.


Pig Beach
The noise in the pig. The pig in the noise.
The time for pig time.
The end of the start of pig time.
The time of the pig thorn.
The mouth drooling in the heart of the pig thorns.
The heart drooling in the shape of the pig.
The hour of the pig light. The arson in the pig dark.
The noise of the pig in the human head.
The noise of the human in the pig head.
The pig fever in the human brain.
The pig light in the human eye.
The pig eye in the dark staring.
The lemon of the pig. The glory and run-off of the pig.
The pig wall alone on the human beach.
The human sand pink and the pig wall burnt.
The human hand scurrying in the pig night.
The mouth drooling in a human night.
The hour of the pig hour.
The hour of the blood drool.
The hour of the pig drool slipping from the light into the dark.
The pig eye staring down.
The human eye staring at the pig eye stare down.
The human spew in the pig head.
The human dark in the pig light.
The peeled lemon of the pig. The hour of the pig lemon.
The crown of pig thorns on the pink sand.

The beach light bright in the pig eye.


12 Resolutions to a New Year
OR: what I did for a holiday.
           
WINTER SOLSTICE: snowy air through chinks in the attic roof us drinking and sleeping moon and everyone like christmas we were torn were cut and bats etched frost through clouds clouds clouds and everyone tasted of hemlock and one of us said lions and love and another told of a phone they once heard ring and another of their mother eating strawberries pacing nude through the garden and everyone tasted of their blood and that felt good felt right right right and we were sweltering like christmas we were
JANUARY
            One evening, the two lovers decide to haunt the films of Fatty Arbuckle. They are allured by his eyes, and what his eyes urge them to commit under weeping willows after midnight.
            One warm-misty evening in the empty theater, the lovers nervously hold hands, close their eyes, and let go into the screen where Fatty Arbuckle is feasting on a greasy duck. He looks up, moist lips asking, So you hope to travel through my shadows? The lovers - sweat gluing their palms tight - can only nod in answer: Yes. The black/white air strikes them as a special slant of bigband moon, and their bodies feel romantic: two roses flattened by a hefty volume. They think Fatty Arbuckle truly is the gate toward paradise.
            When Fatty Arbuckle saws off the limbs of the lovers for a production entitled Fatty Arbuckle is a Butcher, they bite their tongues mute. At night, in the box where their torsos are housed, they comfort each other: not every beauty, they sing, is lovely.
            Fatty Arbuckle studies them from his upstairs window while dressing in a bloodied apron. He knows they are the enemy, but he is too tender toward the couple to make them laugh. He thinks: I'm funny that way. But you need that from a shadow - to be funny that way.
FEBRUARY
            By noon I was sick; drank beer, ate the roast, and tried to paint the windows cream again though my phone was ringing. Do not imagine yourself innocent, warned its voice, because rising wind tangled your hair. Do not think clouds over elms brought these last roses. You were only awakened by storms; only ate when the fall roses bloomed.
MARCH
            At night, asleep, Helix crawled around the dome of the city. It was larger than the moon, lit by violet stars; its slopes made Helix swoon with notions of flight and infinity. Other sleepers also crawled around on all fours. In robes, pajamas, or naked, they were like a parade of dog dreams. But there were no dogs.
            On spring evenings, when the galaxy smelled of lakes and hurricanes, Helix wondered if the dome was his mother. When he pressed his palms to its surface, he almost sensed an undercurrent, and was terrified to think of what it might eat since there were not many stars around. Helix knew there were odd gravities across this dome: he had watched sane men tread from its slope into the dark between the stars. He also knew this dome performed ravenous marriages. Once, Helix gazed at a mountain of copulating bodies, one heaving side tinted by the sun, the other cooled by the moon. Even his late wives were among them, too drunk to see themselves dead.
            As an aged, serene man, Helix was thankful for the dome, often kissing it with shut eyes. It had made his sleep into a cruel, exact mistress. He had seen skulls launch from its volcanoes and whistle through the air. They were not good music.
SPRING EQUINOX: trapped even when the tiger lilies were gazing at the gazebo dances clouds crooning over the moon honeysuckle round her ankle flashing below her hem trapped because I for one felt old wars beneath my skin when I could not sleep I learned how to die for another I was in love so each afternoon as we drank from tin cups after shooting practice I froze over in sun I shook thinking clover does not always hover glad tidings and everyone eating eating eating strawberries because we each were in love shooting out mirrors lamps until in dark we heard lions in the woods no we had not been liars no just a breakfast of bullets odd bloods in milk
APRIL
            At the beach, there were three bathers drying their hair. The fourth lay sleeping. Comets plunged through moons, and the waves painted sand with blood and rain. Seashells formed from mist, as did the sea and larks. Thunder lit gulfs through the air.
            At the park, three bathers lounged in oak shade. The fourth murmured, sleeping. Artists nestled in shrubs painted afternoon across their shoulders. In crimson hotel lobbies, women grew mustaches. When tourists arrived, church bells snagged the breeze. A goat chewed children's limbs by the river.
            At the fountain, three bathers sat kicking water. A fourth died, sleeping. As day slanted toward night, flies thickened into birds, vines curled around city facades. Far away, an old blind man shouted through boulevards for his daughter. Thunder extinguished into traces of breeze.
MAY
            It was a pleasant thought. Girls with oily hair, sharp toenails, murmured it as they crept beneath dusky branches, hoping the idea knew where the north clouds had flown. Boys swore to it in dingy tents, pretending to be Napoleon and Paris, an actual city.
            It was a kingly thought, rising battered soldiers from the fields, their totterings toward far villages clumsy; mouths ruptured with wistful squawkings. They wondered who was first to think this notion. They knew they would kiss this idealist first, to reveal respect. Then, a raised blade, to reveal the liberty the dead retain from social graces.
             No one sat right with the thought. The Mystic in her shawl of woven iguana hair realized therefore its relation to Adam and Eve. The candles across her terrace lit, she smoked opium while meditating storms across the island mountains, sensing only pink flashes in marble skies could sing such stricken ideas. But instead heightened gusts flamed out the light, and The Mystic grew ancient in dim rooms, refusing to gaze out at the weather which had refused her.
            In mellower seasons, we sipped the idea with our tea, and listened to sirens through the bamboo shutters. It led us to childhood again - a landscape of shimmering horizons; anxious whispers about us beyond our music. Tea darkened with night. A flute whistled through explosions and silence.
            The thought was never prophetic. That's why I could never remember where it arose, or the town I was in when it struck. I recollect most things: how wood floors sting my soles as I lurch from bed; how bitter a swallow of coffee can taste before sugar; how I used to pretend I was Matisse. Yet the idea is like Fords of the thirties. You can kick the tires, spit it to shine. You might even drive it. But you suspect that that car has been to the country without you.
            The Mystic left us only with a final verse which now hangs in tatters on her door: on stormy nights, the thought comforts me and I pull it to my neck. Calm nights, stars ablaze, it chokes me so I dance.
JUNE
            At the tattoo parlor, Fatty Arbuckle sits with blood on his Doc Martens, waiting. It is late night television, and he is feeling ragged, as if he had howled for hours in a monsoon; his orchid droops from his lapel. Is there no path toward ageless bliss? he asks Charlie Chan. Is there no way to linger through these noisy reels?
            Charlie Chan scratches his whiskers. Don't ask for musicals as a last feature, he answers. No one cares for smiles and tunes before bed.
            Then Chan walks toward the parrot house to contemplate murder, leaving Arbuckle wishing for a gown from his youthful glory to curl with at night.
JULY
            In this opera our baroness in scarlet peruke is closing curtains on the lover she has stabbed to prove even sickly aristocrats harbor revolution when a carriage is heard in sticky noon air bringing her husband early she wonders how explain a dagger a body a scarlet peruke to a man who never enjoyed keen rituals believing mass for catholics yet she knows him not weightless has been with his mistress our queen under wine-tinged beech shade for olives for seven sexual positions she knows too his swagger merlot smirk his flowing sleeves musky from hair beneath the queen's arms but at blood he recoiled even around servants so he will faint weep bite his collar upon kissing her fingers so tragic to view one so weak when once fat and lusty he ranted arias as they rode to the opera and spoke of his childhood island of solitude and novels and november tales until it was tearing her life
SUMMER SOLSTICE: not angry at you exactly but not exactly in love either
AUGUST
            Joel wanted a new lover.
            He wanted a lover in a maroon smoking jacket with a tongue like forest fruit and hair the tone of matted straw in asylums. She should have electric teeth; tread on heels from which she has frequently sipped brandy - her nails midnight alleys.
            One Sunday afternoon, while napping on the porch swing, Joel dreams of her. They are at a restaurant with glass walls by a turbulent sea; in a country where a certain kind of citizen has long cultivated a certain kind of pleasure. The sun is white and noon.
            Behind their table, a patron with emerald tattoos on his face is devouring tiny flapping wings in cocktail sauce. As he leaves, he halts briefly at their table, asks them how they are managing. It is as if he has forgiven them after these many years.
            There is finally nothing to hide from.
            After lunch, they go outside, stand on jagged rocks which waves crash against. Spray sprinkles their bare arms. They do not tense about drowning despite the danger of it. Everything is waves; violent and lulling song, cold warbling at the back of the throat, a story told in summer.
SEPTEMBER
            God came to me in a dream. He asked me to create the world in his image. This would be my project for the next few years.
            I woke up trembling - drank coffee, listened to trumpets on my record player, stared out windows to the river feeling like I was in Paris, or another century. Scared shitless. I went to work, letting sleep curl in a corner, and studied elephant migrations and lunar languages. But no thunderclap struck me. As weeks rolled by, my world became worn shoes, cold rain. I read, wrote, picked pockets for a scant meal. Holes burned through my stomach. My rooms became a sanctuary of empty bottles.
            Then God came in a dream again; drunk, eyes all starlit. Finished yet? he asked, licking his lips.
            Not even started, I answered.
            He laughed, rubbing his knee with his palm. He said he'd been having the same dream about me for years. That's when we became friends, or at least not enemies...
FALL EQUINOX: from the subways of st louis the porches of buenos aires from even the air and crackled foliage arriving like the year of gothic cuisine with rusted forks arriving from an alley in toulouse through steam risen off trinidadian cobblestones like a morning crashing across trees left three dead one crowded with tales of sky and flame and heaven on the three o'clock flight with whispers of argentina in sunglasses speaking of children and their eyes from a cafe table in madrdid inside elegant lean radios in new jersey even air the crackled foliage like a month of limited warranty from imported and domestic parts tuned to satellites on mars as someone convulsed in the phone booth as another shot their answer in my brain so baby I'm spying on
myself all over again a season deemed right fruit red in contours of inner organs both sexual and blood-pounding at the tavern in the suitcase he asking which planet was fastest me shaking my head in fever as pluto froze three degrees nearer
OCTOBER
            You were gorgeous that morning: the wolf chasing you through the dew-brilliant garden, around the lake with the cranes, and you laughing even after your silk pajamas were torn from vines and claws. It was a lucid, floating day. I waved from the French doors, where I was eating melon, and you and the wolf would nod, and sometimes laugh - at my childish serenity, I guess.
            After lunch, you and the wolf bathed in the patio pool, turning water crimson  from your gouges. In our later years, when the world broadens with humidity and branches hide the clouds, we will remember that crimson as an emblem of honor and pray to our children buried with muzzles and silk.
NOVEMBER
            An art show to begin at five in the morning. Sun rising in picture frames starting to burn walls. We moving about, drinking champagne amid comforting flames, exchanging cards, talking about wars, markets, the cathedrals our lives suggested. Our skins sloughing off, curled with steam, until we can no longer forgive the enchantments of our bones. One of us laughing. Then all of us laughing.
            When the ceiling burnt away, smoke twined from our skeletons toward a bluer sky. Mammothsize burn scars were singed into walls; some of us were bone, others breathing chunks of meat. Our eyes were not windows, or mirrors, but a new organ which bled. And our noses, holes into our brain. We were excited by this art show, and the application it held for our everyday lives, so we began dancing. The tango first, then an Irish jig (it being March). Next, a girl (I think: the figure was small, had flowing hair) began arranging her bones into a tree. We smiled, said, What's home after torrential fires?
             So we climbed those bones, adding our own, getting nearer the fire which had scorched and tended us...
SUMMER SOLSTICE REVISITED IN WINTER: then after every basketball game like he was shot body never found he vanished through camel filter smoke of his own genesis true it was good for us to learn amazement we considered sweat across a bench his blood over the shattered basketball board and no thinking about weather least not in local terms and on that flight from memphis as we were divorcing me in dawn clouds you sleeping three in the morning I wondered at my age if young or old or only a pulse in twentieth century skies like a commercial for hot cocoa and christmas bliss and seeing again adam's knives and suzanne's lips how none of us were ever dancers made us fairly pathetic and stranded poised before red berry trees but we could've been a story at least if only even a flute blew but I am silent new york is silent you silent suns silent as leaves skated the terrace through the moon
DECEMBER
            There are twelve stories about Fatty Arbuckle, and this might be the final one. We know how he spent (wasted, drank through, destroyed loved ones, burnt beds, to be seen in nickelodeons nodding off on junk and gorging pig-like on duck and busting heads and breaking hearts) his final decades. Because of the underground nature of his later years (basements and brothels and dank laboratories and warehouses and seashells) we can only hope certain makeshift records (napkin poems, restroom wall sketches, carvings in trunks, nails through voodoo dolls, digits sent to ex-lovers, whispers floating back off ocean breeze, legends from El Salvador, French myths, personally performed porno in blurred film stock, corpses in floor boards, postcards to cousins, a jam session on tape with Fatty on tenor) appear from the rivers of far drums. We wish ourselves luck.
            He sits, old, bloated, on a park bench. Charlie Chan is old also: his hair silver, cheeks pallid sans cream. The world, old too, petals cold drops into the mangrove shade. My last reel, murmurs Arbuckle, wondering why movies are made if nothing more substantial than celluloid...
            We are of the shadows, Charlie Chan muses, and yet we are frightened of the dark. Why is this so?
            Arbuckle nods no wistfully. All my risks and I'll never live, he says, to be in color.
            And he dies into a closing credit, fading from elements of image, sound. (Never a music man, murmurs Chan.) A reel clicks. Clicks.
                        Clicks.
                                    Clicks.




Wittgenstein, Deleuze, and the Political Grotesque
by James Pate
...to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life. - Wittgenstein
                                                                                            Philosophical Investigations
                                                                                               
Therefore a book also has no object. As an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs. - Deleuze and Guattari
                                                                                                        A Thousand Plateaus

In one of the interesting ironies in recent American poetry, the Language movement, which formed during the Vietnam era and was spurred forward by a politically radical belief that language needed to be de-militarized and de-stabilized (a view best put forward by Bruce Andrews), was arguably influenced less by the usual philosophers of the left (Hegel, Marx, Fanon, Althusser, etc.) than by the seemingly a-political Wittgenstein.1 On one level, this development certainly inspired Language Poets to move away from standard - and sometimes clichéd - leftist modes of thought. And the movement overall certainly generated some of the most ambitious, challenging, and provocative writing on the American poetry scene in the past few decades, redefining what politically radical poetry might mean. Even Bruce Andrews, who more than any other major Language Poet has brought Marxist themes into his work, continually plays with the language of Marxism, the implication being that Marxism itself needs to be de-stabilized in order to achieve its full radical potential. Yet the question of Wittgenstein's usefulness in terms of creating a politically radical poetry has never really been examined. For example, Marjorie Perloff, in her book Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary, focuses almost exclusively on the linguistic influence Wittgenstein has had on a range of contemporary writers - but without ever examining the political implications of Wittgenstein's approach to language, which was a key factor for many of the Language Poets. (Perloff does reference Adorno's Hegelian critique of Wittgenstein, but that critique has to do more with the dialectical process than with any overt political issues.) The question isn't whether Wittgenstein is a brilliant and unique thinker (and Perloff's book wonderfully shows just how crucial Wittgenstein's writings have been for some of the most daring writers in the past fifty years); the question is whether or not Wittgenstein's approach to language in some ways limits a radical approach to poetry. Does the reliance on Wittgenstein's approach, with its emphasis on describing but not explaining the world, with its resistance to theory (and therefore to the very mode of thought which makes thinkers like Marx possible), necessarily lead to a certain kind of political passivism?
           
Recently, though, some poets have been moving away from the Wittgensteinian/ semiotic approach to language preferred by the Language Poets. Deleuze and Guattari, Cixous, and Zizek - all writers who focus on the materiality of the body (and bodies) - have become more and more influential for certain poets, and this renewed interest in the materiality of the body has created an aesthetic that is as politically subversive as that of the Language Poets (and arguably even more so), and also one that is highly grotesque/excessive. It could even be said that for these poets the extreme logic of the grotesque relates fundamentally to the logic of radical politics.
           
To begin with a current example of the Wittgensteinian/semiotic approach:
           
Juliana Spahr's This Connection of Everyone with Lungs  is a fascinating example of how Wittgensteinian thought can impact a poetic that attempts to explore, and de-familiarize, our current political vocabulary. Though the poems in this book are far removed from the linguistic acrobatics of Bernstein and Silliman - Spahr's language purposely borders on the journalistic at times - Spahr, like those poets, hopes to move our political language away from fog-and-mirror effects of Washington-speak, and Wittgenstein's influence is important to how she goes about carrying out this project. The book begins, like Wittgenstein's Tractatus, on the atomistic level ("There are the things: // cells, the movement of cells and the division of cells // and then the general beating of circulation," is reminiscent of the first line in the Tractatus, which states, "The world is everything that is the case"), and from there the text slowly accumulates notion upon notion, fact upon fact, until we reach the all-encompassing final line, "Fast combat support ships, landing crafts, air cushioned, all of us / with all of that." In fact, a great deal of the power of this book stems from this sense of accumulation, and the effect is nearly symphonic, with, for example, each new element that appears in the poem, such the "Beloveds" or the image of the parrot, recurring again and again as the book progresses, and taking on different connotations each time it appears.
           
The basic tension in the book is situated between the post-9/11 world and the idyllic life the poet and the "beloveds" share. "It is so calm here and yet so momentous in the rest of the world," Spahr writes, and just as the idyllic is haunted by war and violence ("We do not speak of it and instead press up against one anothers reveling in the pleasure of being back together"), the world of Bush and the coming Iraq War is contrasted with the life with the "beloveds" ("How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation have so little power outside the space of our bed?"). The poems are not confessional, though. The idyllic is rendered with a few broad strokes (the beloveds, the bed, the parrots, the morning, flora and fauna) in a manner that echoes John Ashberry's similarly generalized manner. There are no domestic epiphanies here. Interestingly, the political sections are full of extremely specific detail ("Bradley fighting vehicles," "155 mm Howitzers"). It is a reversal of how we commonly think of the opposition between private/public, with our private lives busy with minutiae and our sense of public life being vague at best. And this aspect of the book might be its most radical implication - that in a truly politicized life the personal is general, and the political specific.2
           
And yet, the book as a whole, by carrying out the Wittgensteinian project of describing, and not explaining, by listing so many atomistic facts, seems curiously devoid of any attempt to deal with the odd ideological framework that created the Iraq War. Obviously, it would be naive to ask a book of poetry to offer an analysis of the ideology behind the war, but I would argue that the weakness of Spahr's book is that by failing to take ideology seriously, and by giving us "facts" about the buildup to the Iraq War (as if the simple relation of facts were enough to convince anyone of the injustice of the war), Spahr falls into the logical trap that empirical leftists like Noam Chomsky repeatedly fall into also: because "facts" are always-already part of the fabric of an ideology (whether left, right, or center), "facts" alone never really bring us closer to understanding, or responding to, an issue. If they did, the working-class would be in perpetual war with the upper-class, and the Republican Party would no longer draw so many votes from the poor. And what is intriguing about Spahr's This Connection of Everyone with Lungs is the way the book is actually very close to that other seemingly non-ideological mode of thought - New Age philosophy. New Age thought, as found in writers like Deepak Chopra and Matthew Fox, also attempts to create an aura of mystical unity from scientific notions, and similarly tries to create a "politics" of general well-being from such a unity. From the belief that we all share "this connection of everyone with lungs" (in other words, a connection based not on thought or ideology, but on the fact that we are all bodies) to the theme that "our world is small and isolated," with the image of our world in space being an implied argument for world peace, to the statement that what matters most is "whatever you love best," Spahr's book employs several New Age tropes throughout. But such New Age elements, when given specific content, clearly become questionable. For example, the theme of connection seems benevolent at first, but is there really a "connection" between, say, a western CEO and an individual struggling in the Third World (unless bald exploitation is considered a connection)? And what if what "you love best" happens to be playing violent, militaristic video games, or shopping at expensive clothing stores? Such New Age thinking tends to be so vague and non-critical that it implicitly endorses the status quo. By attempting to empty her book of ideology, by trying to base a vision of the utopian/idyllic on biology (we all have lungs) and astronomy (we live on a "small and isolated" planet), Spahr leaves no room for genuine political strife, and the political landscape takes on a murky sameness. Since we all are connected by lungs and cells, there can be no real enemy, no one to fight against (which is another New Age notion).
           
In a few recent books, though, there has been a move away from the Wittgensteinian approach, and toward an aesthetic that is more influenced by Deleuze, among others. There are some interesting similarities between Wittgenstein and Deleuze. They are both against the concept of depth in philosophy - with Freud in particular being held in great suspicion - and both believed that the line between philosophy and aesthetics should be erased (Wittgenstein even famously writing, "Philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry.") But in terms of style there is a crucial difference: Wittgenstein was a deliberate and austere minimalist, and Deleuze both preached and practiced a rampant maximalism, believing that philosophy should be about creation and not truth (or, as Zizek might say, about Meaning and not Truth). Also, due to their philosophy of the "body without organs," and to the plurality of identities created by such a body, the realm of raw materiality is of crucial importance for Deleuze and Guattari in a way that it simply isn't for Wittgenstein.
           
Ariana Reines' The Cow is a book similar to Spahr's in its obsession with our physicality ("I was a LUNG," she writes), but unlike Spahr, who sees our physical nature as the literal tissue that we all hold in common, Reines views our material selves as full of divisions, holes, with the recurring imagery of the slaughterhouse blending into "human" sex ("Boys rinse their arms in what falls from my carotid. My body is the opposite of my body when they hang me up by my hind legs") and death ("I have to get to the other side of the animal"). There is a horror film atmosphere to the text overall, and not simply because of the amount of carnage and slaughter that occurs in its pages, though carnage does appear everywhere in the book, including its jarring cover. Rather, the voice itself seems monstrous at times, and possessed. In some of the poems, such as "In Which She Pays For Her Tardiness," the poet's persona speaks in such a sputtering, uneven manner ("I was a rock PLUGGED / I was a whole EMPTIED") that the voice seems possessed by a multitude of struggling voices, similar to Linda Blair's demon voice in The Exorcist (where even her sleep-breathing sounds like a room of patients in a sanitarium). And in the poem, "Nico Said Excrement Filters Through The Brain. I's A Kit," the "I" enters "somebody else's house," masturbates, bleeds in the sink, and shits with the door open ("because there's nobody here") - and the persona here has the numbed menacing aura of the character Henry in "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Instead, Reines is working in a similar vein as Burroughs and Godard, who were committed to stealing from any genre that they might find useful in order to create effects that a more normalized aesthetic (the art film, the literary novel) could never achieve. In the case of The Cow, it could even be said that Reines uses horror film effects partially because the horror film is one of our most subversive genres - a good example of this being seen in the recent film "28 Weeks Later," in a scene that begins on a highly sentimental note (Father is reunited with Mother) and then quickly turns obscene and disgusting (Father eats Mother). In the world of The Cow, as in the world of the horror film, love and Eros do not so much turn into hate (that would be the world of the thriller) as into something monstrous and inhuman: "His thick thick thick in my Warsawa. So basically you peel the skin off and slice the thing in half with a chainsaw, vertically. Does every man really want to split me open." That said, though, I don't think that Reines indulges in the easy misanthropy of most horror films. What seems to fascinate her is not the horror film's paranoid notion that there are dangerous, sick individuals out there that perpetually threaten to obliterate our normal life: instead, she is interested by the more uncanny element in some horror films that suggest there is something shocking and grotesque about material reality itself. The zombies in George Romero's films are so disturbing because they seem so literal, so stripped of biography and psychological motivation. They are the opposite of "the Word made Flesh."
           
If Spahr's book is implicitly attuned to the ethics of New Age philosophy, Reines' The Cow seems to edge toward a nihilism so extreme it becomes ecstatic at moments ("A hundred kneelers say the dark sky is rent with darker dews that shimmer like rot in the morning"), and whereas Spahr would like to bring material reality under the rubric of a holistic system, Reines writes, "everything is part of something. // I am part of something because my life is so stupid." The reason for this violent disconnection is that for Reines, existence itself, the material quality of it, is in excess. Existence destroys the horizon of meaning, as it does in Artaud. "I was a shaft some light filled / I was a skin," she writes, and the book overall struggles with this contradiction. Recall how in Spahr the bodies consist of cells and lungs - a decaffeinated body, to paraphrase Zizek: one stripped of blood, shit, and muscle. In contrast, Reines' bodies are bodies of utter excess, to the point that they break the bounds of any holistic scale: "I want a world to live in and I am vomiting cause there is no world. There are vessels that have had their innards emptied out, sliding around in the lube." Also, Spahr is attempting to us a Wittgensteinian approach to language, taking our political discourse apart piece by tiny piece, whereas Reines' book truly is an "assemblage" in the Deleuzean sense, with thrown in bits of John Ashberry and Marguerite Duras, along with books with titles such as The Merck Veterinary Manual and Carcass Disposal: A Comprehensive Review and Deleuze and Guattari themselves. She creates a text that continually makes the reader aware of its own stitched, mechanical construction.
           
In terms relating to political discourse, Reines' The Cow is not as overtly topical as Spahr's book, which early on contains a brief prose statement informing the reader how the text relates to the post-9/11 world. In fact, there are no references to Bush or Iraq; even the quotations from the Koran are not given a political context. But this very lack of topicality, I would argue, actually makes the book much more politically ambitious. With Spahr, the reader always suspects that the poet believes that if Bush were not in power, and the Iraq War had not come about, than we would be living in a near-idyllic society (as if the neo-liberalism of Clinton is the best we can hope for politically). Reines, by not dealing explicitly with the war, and instead focusing on the language and techniques of the slaughterhouse as the mechanism which best illustrates the situation we find ourselves in (the terror and ecstasy, so to speak, of sheer materiality), bypasses the private/public separation found in Spahr and seems to be suggesting that only by walking into the filth and obscenity of the slaughterhouse can we, paradoxically, "clean the language." Of course, our very conception of what "clean" is will probably be liquidated in the process.
           
Lara Glenum's The Hounds of No also finds in obscenity a site of possible liberation, or at least a site where capital implodes, but whereas Reines is "schizophrenic" - her voice, for example, shifting from the demonic to the childish to the "normal" within the same poem and sometimes even within the same line - Glenum constructs a voice that is fairly consistent from poem to poem, and yet which is, if anything, even more inhuman than the voices Reines employs. Like Sylvia Plath, Glenum is not afraid of using a theatrical persona, and that quality serves these poems well (in fact, the speaker in "Out of the Coffin I Leap," almost sounds as if the character in Plath's "Lady Lazarus" has returned from death itself, having been driven partially mad by the experience). The voice she creates is reminiscent of the witch's otherworldly voice in Kurosawa's Rashomon, being an odd mixture of formality and ghastliness. And though Deleuze and Guattari are clearly influences here ("Use the spine as a flute to play / the soft nationalistic marches of the 'bodies without organs' collective," Glenum writes in "How to Discard the Life You've Now Ruined"), Glenum's interest in theater and spectacle seem related to early Nietzsche, and especially to The Birth of Tragedy. Like Nietzsche's imagined Grecian actors, Glenum's persona is thrown from one extremity to the other, and the theatricality here is quite visual - she is, at various points in the book, crucified ("St. Liberata and the Alien Hordes"), borne into heaven ("How to Obtain the Girl-Scout Badge for Succeeding in the Afterlife"), and resurrected ("Out of the Coffin I Leap"). She also reduplicates ("Message to the Department of the Interior") and promotes violent revolutionary action ("The Regime of Bliss"). And it is this theatricality that shows best how far removed Glenum is from the Language Poets. If many Language Poets were skeptical of the mimetic quality in language, believing that their linguistic experiments could shift language toward a pre-ideological openness, Glenum  correctly realizes, like Althusser, that language can never be stripped of ideology no matter how de-stabilized it becomes, and that the only answer to a Right-Wing "fantasy" (Althusser's term) is a Left-Wing "fantasy."3       
           
One of the major differences between Reines and Glenum is that Reines is interested in the grotesque on the micro-level (with the poem "Item" being the exception that proves the rule), while Glenum is interested in the grotesque on the macro-level. We are a step removed in her poetry, and can see the poem-world from a certain distance. There is a narrative element in her work, but it is not the highly "crafted," A-unfolding-into-B narrative of more conventional poetry. In the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari, who argue for a nomadic form of literature, of spreading grass across (as opposed to roots down) a particular field, Glenum writes her poems in an "and then...and then" mode. The poem "Excrescence" even ends with the line "and then...and then!" Just as Reines bravely uses language that could be considered stupid or ugly (to amazing effect), Glenum uses the narrative logic of young children (to equally striking effect).
           
The poems are also extremely complicated. It's sometimes thought that poetry or fiction that is bluntly shocking is also bluntly simplistic, that shock by definition somehow erases nuance and subtly, but the poems in The Hounds of No directly contradict such a notion. Glenum's "How to Discard the Life You've Ruined," for example, has a tone that hovers somewhere between a dry, practical set of instructions (ones that might help someone make a bookcase) and a more spiritual definition of instruction (rules that monks might follow in the hope of attaining closeness to God, or Enlightenment). "Carve tiny beasts out of the teeth & wrap them in strands of black hair," she writes, and "sew the animals into your stomach." But there is no easy irony in this poem. Instead, the reader is placed in the role of the torturer or murdered (the "you" in the title) and told how to "discard" the victim, a process that involves high art ("Hang the loose skin in a weeping museum"), music ("Use the spine as a flute"), and sport ("Tack the two legs onto your own hips & / gallop through zones of agony"). Only in the enraged last line of the poem is the reader given any suggestion that this type of horrific play is sickening, and only at that point does the full irony in the poem become evident. We realize that the ugliness of these instructions is not meant to simply convey the depravity of the "you" - it is also part of the poet's outrage, similar to what happens when a speaker is trying to create rage among an audience by relating one terrible thing about an enemy after another. And that the speaker's voice seems borderline "mad" in the last line (and the rest of the poem retroactively from that line) is exactly the point. Rage, in Glenum's book, is not to be feared: it is embraced and sometimes made oddly jubilant. This, I think, is also related to the type of ferocious irony that Glenum refers to in her "Manifesto of the Anti-Real" at the end of the book. "Irony is not a device," she tells us. "It is a state of being." This type of irony is close to Nietzsche's radical sense of irony - that is, an irony that has no stable point, no safe corner to hide in: an irony born from the most extreme form of skepticism - and it is also an irony that has nothing to do with the so-called postmodern irony found in so much contemporary poetry. One of the fascinating aspects about Glenum's book, in fact, is how post-post-modern it seems. Elizabeth Bishop once remarked that when she read John Berryman's poetry, she felt like she was reading the poetry of the future, and the same could be said about Glenum's poetry. "Hang sentimentality on the gallows of Emergency," she writes in the last line of the book, and the sentiment is so far from the ossified modernist/postmodern ways in which we tend to think about aesthetics that you almost feel as if new notions of poetry are needed simply to read the book in an engaged manner. This is the kind of book that seems to call for new types of criticism.
           
Another book that uses elements of the political grotesque - that sees the grotesque as a legitimate response to what critics sometimes call "late capitalism" - is Daniel Borzutzky's The Ecstasy of Capitulation. But just as the differences between Glenum and Reines' books are more interesting than the similarities, Borzutzky's book is also stylistically and thematically markedly different from the worlds described by The Cow and The Hounds of No. Whereas Reines is exploring ways of thinking reminiscent of Artaud and Beckett, and Glenum writes in the exulted, ironic style of Blake and Plath, Borzutzky's work has a family resemblance to The New York School aesthetic. The often lengthy lines, the use of "prosaic" language ("Clare never doubted that her husband Phil loved her"), and the blending of surrealism with public life ("Dear Mr. Gorbachev, if we are together / Again do not spank me upon my bare buttocks") recall the playfulness of Frank O'Hara and the early Kenneth Koch. Yet the book is certainly not a rehashing of The New York School sensibility, and there is an undercurrent of menace to many of the poems that gives the book a sense of almost violent nervousness. In "Mission Statement," the poet writes, "Oh the gentle sense of peace that comes from the / impossibility of peace. This more than / anything is what I wish to achieve." And unlike the surrealism of The New York School, which tended to be non-politicized, Borzutzky's poems again and again speak through the voice of political figures (Nixon, Reagan, Kissinger), and/or mimic the "we" voice often used in the public forum: "We prefer alderman to councilmen, but what we really need are chickens." And while the "I" in O'Hara and Koch was the engine on which many of their poems ran, the "I" in Borzutzky's poems either tends to belong to other people (Nixon, etc.) or to shape-shift fundamentally from poem to poem, with, for example, the warm voice in "For Face" having little to do with the wonderfully creepy voice in "Why so Pale and Wan, Fond Lover" - a poem that recalls the intensely biological Eros found in Burroughs and William Vollmann. 
           
The grotesque is used throughout the book, and often in a very unexpected way. Surprisingly, the most grotesque creatures of all in Borzutzky's book are poets themselves. If some poets would like to imagine the poetry community to be a gracious one, and still secretly believe that poets should be the legislators of the world (a sentiment Spahr evidently shares when she writes, "How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation have so little power outside the space of our bed?"), Borzutzky continually describes poets as being feral, savage, and capable of spreading to the general population "intermittent explosive disorder, insomnia, narcissistic personality disorder, panic attacks, premature ejaculation, sadism, delusional disorder," and a host of other related problems. Borzutzky, like Rimbaud and Vallejo, has a notion of the writer as an almost-animal, but while in some writer's hands this theme might easily become pretentious, even self-congratulatory, Borzutzky continually uses humor to undercut any possible glamorization of the "barbaric writers" - and creates a truly funny and exciting anti-heroic aesthetic by doing so: "No, poetry / is not what I want. Only defecation on poetry. For / after years of humiliation, I have finally learned that / to humanize our poems, we must shit on them." Yet, Borzutzky is hardly a primitivist: as in Vallejo, the supposedly primitive is actually constructed by extremely literate, self-conscious means. The notion of "The Barbaric Writers" itself comes from Roberto Bolano's stunning novel Distant Star, whose central character, a Fascist Chilean avant-garde poet, becomes involved with a group who shits on and tears up famous works of literature; Borzutzky, in a Borgesian turn, lifts this idea of the barbaric writer and takes its eccentric aesthetic logic to the limit. Several paradoxes are brought up. In "The Forest of Barbaric Sestinas," the barbaric writer is said to have "loved hate, and hated love," and yet "he knew that his desire for love" was what inspired him to write "The Forest of Barbaric Sestinas." And though the barbaric writer is a poet, and has written the sestina we are currently reading, the barbaric writer also desires "the end of poetry," an event that will only come about "when ordinary barbarians, like you and I, unite to end / the practice of admiring texts, and replace it with the desire / to destroy texts in ceremonies of blood, vomit, defecation" - a revolutionary desire not far removed from the one Godard expresses at the end of Weekend when, in the closing scene, the line The End of Cinema appears on the screen. In Borzutzky's book, "culture" is continually challenged: "A good leek soup smells like vomit," he writes, and "a bad leek soup smells like vomit." But he doesn't fall back on reactionary notions of authenticity, of primal nature, but, again, goes the opposite route of showing how everything is rootless, constructed, Borgesian. As Borzutzky brilliantly demonstrates, the textual and the disgusting, artifice and desire, and intellect and obscenity are not oppositions: they are two aspects of the same phenomena.
           
The destruction of Art (at least in its heroic, "mature" sense) is a common theme among Reines, Glenum, and Borzutzky, and it is a theme that returns us back to Deleuze and Zizek. Like those writers, these poets are not content to simply examine the world, or to stay within the fairly safe (by now) discourse of the semiotic (though all of these poets have taken various and important cues from the Language Movement). For them, the question of the real (or Real) goes beyond the well-known insight that "sign does not equal signifier," and they do not think that facts alone can create a political point of view. As Reines writes, "While American poetry / dissolved its I the starvational and massacred bodies of all the world / larded newspapers with their blood and guts."

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