K. Silem Mohammad occupies a territory where the borders between hypertext and intertextuality are patrolled by robot tank cars and killer hovercrafts
K. Silem Mohammad, The Front, Roof Books, 2009.
Kenny Goldsmith said that "K. Silem Mohammad is the Andy Warhol of contemporary poetry, acutely scraping the bottom of the cultural barrel with such prescience, precision, and sensitivity that we are forced to reevaluate the nature of the language engulfing us. Our first impulse is to flee, to deny its worth, to turn away from it, to write it off as a big joke; but as with Warhol's car crashes or electric chairs, we are equally entranced, entertained, and repulsed: we can't stop looking. This is important and beautiful work, but not in the way we've come to expect. It's a double-edged sword that Mohammad is holding against our necks, forcing us to look at ourselves in the blade's reflection with equal doses of swooning narcissism and white-knuckled fear." Bob Perelman understands Kasey's work through the chance operations with which he derives his vocabulary: "Of those infinite monkeys chained to those infinite typewriters, which one actually came up with King Lear? At first it looks like one of those conundrums that'll never be solved. But with K. Silem Mohammad's THE FRONT we catch a glimpse of a method that just might move us in a fruitful direction. First, take all the language on the web--it's not infinity, but it's what we've got for the moment--then stand exposed to those howling social gales. If you want to know what it feels like to lose sovereignty, go to THE FRONT."
K. Silem Mohammad, Breathalyzer, Edge Books, 2008.
"Goofy, weird, beyond funny, wise, wicked, K. Silem Mohammad is the exorcist giving us all a ride home. Beyond the pale, right with it, he's my poet laureate for our frightening state of the union"--Linh Dinh
"They say Auden was the first poet to be truly at home in the modern world. Mohammad is the first to be utterly unimaginable in any other. His poems communicate a total, infectious joy at being alive today, in our F'ed-up pluriverse of words and deeds. F in this case being flarf, a four-letter word for our time" - Benjamin Friedlander
Does K. Silem Mohammad have a second life as noise band virtuoso, DJ, and symphony conductor? What in the name of aural excitation is he doing to our innocent, insane, difficult words? Surround-sound echoes, unfamiliar and fearsome, "wank the spread of prominent grooves" messing up the turntables thatdate back to the smorgasbord. History, move on or get your breath tested now! Breathalyzer has infected my brain with the ebullience of anything improbable, inglorious, and hopelessly close to reality. Consider the following: "I am at war/ therefore I am in a polling booth." You better read this gorgeous book. - Carla Harryman
Goofy, weird, beyond funny, wise, wicked, K. Silem Mohammad is the exorcist giving us all a ride home. Beyond the pale, right with it, he's my poet laureate for our frightening state of the union. - Linh Dinh
I attended a riot out of that curiosity which is not basic.
But the day trip was a chance to step foot and wander.
The external journey from there to here.
This is business.
Cave dwellers were small and hairy and exploited.
They would never blur something like that out.
The film doesn’t really work at all if you think.
Ghost of a transcendental meaning.
Hugh Hefner is alive, American, modern, trustworthy.
Innocent. Which he was, once.
There is one thing I resent deeply.
The lone hamster operating his mind seeking a refugee status.
Naso was by him banished in his old age.
The story will continue to present some surprises.
Flying to Africa to open a bank account.
There is no kind of universal reference.
That would obviously be a bad situation.
But everyone was familiar with it.
11am: chickens nearby eating from a garbage heap.
Les parties de ce message comportant autre texte.
But it was the language. By the way.
The airship closes its hatch.
We'll now presume you are sitting far far away.
How many of us here have lived?
I press submit and nothing happens.
Out of the city, I would have plenty of both.
Each chapter of this story is being told by children.
As a Mexican, I want to hear this.
K. Silem Mohammad, A Thousand Devils, Combo Books, 2004.
"If an ancient had an epileptic seizure, he was possessed by a thousand devils. When he regained consciousness, the devils were driven out by a healer. The devils had to go someplace. In this case they have gone into the poems.The poems roar or whisper balefully from the sand or from the wind, or stir unseen in the coiling silence; or fall from the heavens like crushing incubi.With their dismal fooleries they trasform our worthless days and disentagle a thousand evils, and they are indeed, incredible"-Nada Gordon. "Toward some crooked vein of empathy/ A subsong marries its twin in reply:/ Can there be a code joined to right or ruth/ Adequately, this star-freaked wide isthmus?" -from "The Lollard's Remonstrance."
"Be equal to squirming out of a crisis and you will seep purulently through deafening goiters into wheatfields, kingdoms, caverns," Mohammad advises in his provocative, tumultuous, sometimes fascinating sophomore effort. A poetry-world blogger (limetree.ksilem.com) and critic of experimental writing, as a poet Mohammad (Deer Head Nation) is a sometime exponent of Flarf, a poetic style emphasizing deliberately gauche, clumsy or distasteful language, sometimes with the aid of Internet searches. Though only a few years old, Flarf has already found its way into college courses, the Village Voice and even the BBC, which interviewed Mohammad about it. His new volume may or may not count as Flarf proper, but it certainly demonstrates the aggressive responses to all conventions, the hostility and frustration toward mainstream meanings and mainstream media, and the sometimes exhilarating parody, which Flarf (along with predecessors from William Burroughs to Bruce Andrews) manifests. "I like to stay in the dark shadows of the garage, where it's a felony to lactate," "Death the Comedian" says, while another poem portrays "the cross-section of the frontal lobe/ sautéed in battery acid." Such corrosive images, spliced together with dissonant, freer-than-free-jazz rhythms, let Mohammad deliver his striking "blast of/ antimatter" alongside a heap of literary-historical jokes—"Yet once more the frying tricycles/ And yet once more the new wave muttonchops." - Publishers Weekly
K. Silem Mohammad, Deer Head Nation, Tougher Disguises Press, 2003.
K. Silem Mohammad's 'Deer Head Nation' occupies a territory where the borders between hypertext and intertextuality are patrolled by robot tank cars and killer hovercrafts. In these poems, the vampiric fallacy of globalism is intercepted via such middle-American iconography as the mounted deer head, Guns N' Roses t-shirts, and Halloween Pumpkin Bubble Lights that become accessory devices to the machinery of war.
Transrational lyric assemblage doubling as satiric critique of nationalism, 'Deer Head Nation' books a schizophrenic vacation cruise in the exotic and possibly hostile prosodic waters of search-engine taglines and funny-animal aestheticism. Welcome to 'Deer Head Nation'..now go home.
How to create a community through poetry: 1) A poem can describe an existing social organization such as "adolescent girls in America." 2) It can describe a society from an earlier historical period: "I spent 20 years in the army / of the most powerful nation on earth / the army of the Pharaoh / biting kids in your street." 3) It can invent one--for example, Martian teenagers, magical kittens, "the army of the negaverse," etc. 4) It can even invent the symbolic rituals through which societies define themselves: "many pledge allegiance to the 'blood god'/ I pledge allegiance to the freaky horse/ who watches over me as I sleep."
These examples of community awareness are quoted from K. Silem Mohammad's poetry collection Deer Head Nation. The title suggests a commitment to nation-building: this book wants to be America, although it may not particularly like America and may occasionally demand "DEATH TO AMERICA!" In any case, the "head nation" designated in the title is not exactly singular. For one thing, it's a pun: it both describes a nation of people who collect and display deer heads as hunting trophies (or, more simply, a nation in the shape of a deer head), and, in the respectful but impersonal language of form letters, it addresses that nation as a world superpower: "Dear Head Nation." This addressee is also not singular; since nations are in conflict, both the militant "deer head nation" and the "raghead nation" have some pretensions to being recognized as the "head nation." And Mohammad's America is not singular either; behind the oppressive "voice of America ad nauseam"--a monoculture where everyone is apparently saying the same thing, "the same deer's head for instance / appears over and over"--many distinctly articulated voices, including "the voice of Yogi Bear," project their own self-images as collective identities.
Thus, 5) a poem creates a community by incorporating multiple voices through quotation, allusion, and influence--intertextual rather than international relations. The poems in Deer Head Nation are a little coy about their use of source-materials--in "Spooked," the first poem in the collection, "the voices have no source"--and the front matter and jacket copy are disappointingly unforthcoming about Mohammad's methodology, but it's apparent that most of the language is derived from internet searches for keywords or phrases. In his word searches, Mohammad tends to prefer language that's inarticulate, vulgar, anti-literary; some of the words in this collection have probably never appeared before in poems. (Also, for a book of computer-assisted writing, the ethos is surprisingly low-tech: the basic model for artistic technique is a preserved and mounted deer head--"warning: skinning a deer head really and truly sucks"--although some poems imagine a post-apocalyptic "public transit system of hovercrafts.") This language is then presumably reduced, arranged, divided, and otherwise doctored. The collaged results are sometimes relatively seamless ("NAFTA, 6 pesos to the dollar / that is downright spooky"); less frequently, the presentation emphasizes the prior situatedness of the materials in a computer-generated word list ("Misfits Attitude.mp3 Misfits Braineaters.mp3," etc.).
One might also argue that 6) a poem is an expression of a community of poets. Deer Head Nation is a state-of-the-art collection of a kind of writing that's sometimes called "flarf." (The term was originally supposed to designate uses of language that would be inappropriate in poetry, but now it seems to be primarily associated with poems based on internet searches.) Some of Mohammad's colleagues in flarf writing (Drew Gardner, Gary Sullivan, Katie Degentesh, Jordan Davis) make cameo appearances in the charming, witty, and only mildly offensive poem "Puritan": "there's a bunch of people in Drew's pants / and not forgetting Gary's pants / police also noticed a bulge in Katie's pants / . . . we are in 'Jordan's Pants' / oh great--/ let's go find Michael Jordan's pants." (I'm using the term "offensive" in, if possible, an objective sense, although anyone who claims to be offended by this book is probably being disingenuous. What did you expect from a poem called "Puritan" in a book called Deer Head Nation? Which is just to say that 7) a poem is also part of a community--a collection of poems, or a sequence such as "Deer Head Suite"-- and should be judged mainly for its behavior within its peer group.)
Finally, 8) a poem establishes an artificial community among its readers. Everyone who reads a poem is connected to it and to its other readers--an occult fact that Mohammad cheerfully exploits in "Full Summary and Analysis of Paradise Lost" and in "Wallace Stevens," poems that recount misinformation about the lives and works of major authors--e.g., "Satan turns into a cute little cherub / . . . 'spent $17,000 on a new car,' he laments." Because the context of reading is a social one, poetry acquires its real significance in use. - Aaron Kunin
Psychoanalytic Night at Hooters:
Poet K. Silem Mohammad and poet and scholar Jeff Dolven consider how to rearrange the Renaissance tradition with an anagram engine, a click, and a drag. Their conversation is followed by a number of Mohammad’s sonnagrams, compositions anagramatically derived from Shakespeare’s sonnets.
I hope this doesn’t derail the thematic focus of this occasion, but I don’t see what I’m doing with Shakespeare’s sonnets as imitation in the tradition you invoke, except at the most trivial structural level, that of making an English sonnet. This isn’t to say that I’m not interested in that tradition, or that I haven’t thought about it a lot. And it just occurs to me that one of the sonnagrams, “After Shakespeare,” is a kind of deliberate imitation, but even there I don’t lay claim to any kind of verisimilitude: it’s just generic fake early modern English. Also, there are lots of near-quotes and allusions throughout to various poets (like in the Frank O’Hara sonnagram), but, again, this isn’t really the same thing as Wyatt and Surrey faithfully following Petrarch or whatever. If I’m imitating anyone, it would be Christian Bök or Gregory Betts, whose anagrammatic experiments are probably my chief influences for this project.
On the other hand, maybe there’s an imitative element that I’m not acknowledging enough here. I did spend [insert embarrassingly big number] years studying Renaissance poetry in a grad program, so some of that certainly rubbed off on my phrasing. But as far as my conscious disposition goes, I see it more as ludic disruption than imitation.
None of that really describes what your procedure does: The line-by-line anagrammatization is a tactic for banishing Shakespeare’s words and defining a freedom of resources. But still, as you say, it may feel like something has rubbed off. (“Rubbed off”: a great phrase.) The formal structure accounts for some of that: For example, you and Shakespeare both isolate that final couplet, so it has a weird detachment, half summary and half throwaway. But there are other common devices that feel more on-the-fly, like starting each quatrain with “if” (in your take on Sonnet 42); the general feel of stepwise argument; or the tortured, self-inspecting “I” that probably didn’t come from Kenneth Goldsmith, or not straight from him. You see what I’m asking: How much did Shakespeare get to you, despite the ludic disruption? And a parallel question: How about Bök or Betts? Their constraints are a model, I know; their methods. But what about their sound?
Interesting question about Bök and Betts’s “sound.” I do think they have distinctive sounds, especially Bök. And I don’t think the sound can be accounted for entirely by pointing to the anagrammatic method, though it certainly contributes. But I’m pretty sure that I don’t sound like either one of them and, in fact, sometimes I think I sound more like myself in the sonnagrams than in any of my other work, including the Google-driven Flarf work, though I could make the same point about it to a lesser extent. What I’m getting at is that the procedural approach somehow results in a concentrated version of my own voice. Also let it be known that I’m aware of how horrifying this voice is sometimes. My only defense is that an author’s voice is not the same thing as a philosophy or an ethics. It’s a constructed, performative thing, with lots of room for irony and imitation.
In more general terms, I like bragging, but I don’t really want to be seen as sincerely bragging. I like it when rappers brag, for instance, because it usually seems clear that it’s a game, and even a genuinely competitive one in some ways, but the point isn’t really to establish one’s credentials finally as “the best,” because that would end the game. Rather, bragging allows more bragging to happen, and the game goes on. I enjoy the structure of the brag, and I also enjoy the ways in which I can subvert the brag by being obviously ridiculous. If I’m imitating anyone, it’s Juicy J or 2 Chainz as much as Shakespeare. Again, not necessarily in stylistic ways, but in ways that have to do with broader stances and motives.
Hot Butt Hot Butt Hot Butt DiddyErotic reptiles sing sweet airs to me
Amid synthetic England’s deathly stench;
Lo, unto every teenaged thigh they flee,
While friendly hamsters masturbate in French.
The rightward-slanted menacing elite,
By eerie method echoing their breath,
Refill their gaudy bathtubs in the street
With grisly murder (“Dude, the cutting death”).
The fluffiest of scarecrows rusts within;
The yellowest banana soon turns brown;
Erasure of the phone book is a sin;
A polar bear should never wear a gown.
My hungry kittens tremble at my shoes
When made to eat the fat of ruddy ewes.
Sonnet 1 (“From fairest creatures we desire increase”)
STD’s? Thank Ms. DDT, Men, then DashI’m Grover Cleveland, homies, hear me roar:
I eat thirteen fish tacos every night,
And every morning I eat twenty more
(Uh huh, uh huh, you feel me, son? that’s right).
I brush my teeth with contraceptive gel,
Do weird stuff with a weird potato masher;
I win most all the reindeer games in Hell,
Besides the ones that Satan wins, or Dasher.
When dirty sons of bitches bob my hair,
I write my manifesto with a crayon
And throw my Star Wars bath toys down the stair,
Then tidy up and get my DeMolay on.
A joke I dreamt of: how do dodos pee?
Oh happy, happy birds! the joke’s on me.
Sonnet 50 (“How heavy do I journey on the way”)
www.hummus.web, www.feverflume.tv (TV? Shhhhhhh, TV)I hate The Beatles, dude. The Beatles suck.
They blow. They bite. They chew. They’re awesome—not!
I’m also not so thrilled with Donald Duck.
I mean, I guess he’s cool…. He’s sort of hot.
Darth Vader isn’t Harry Potter’s dad;
There are not fifty femurs in your body;
There’s no one named Baloo in Superbad;
It’s haute couture, not hottie cootarati.
On psychoanalytic night at Hooters,
Tostadas are a metaphor for bread,
Odysseus is not unkind to suitors,
And (elsewhere) Teddy Roosevelt is dead.
On sauteed summer eels we feed ourselves;
We feed fresh elvish hummus to our elves.
Sonnet 54 (“O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem”)
This Butch Headphone WitchGeometry potatoes whack the bush,
Toyota’s hotness hatching Goethe’s wraith;
Anthologies our congresswomen push
Offended Khrushchev’s nonexistent faith.
Breathe in the unattractive Southwest beige
Cheerleader fetish (hint, hint) housefly doom;
Placental teeth assaulted dentists’ flesh
Against forbidden Dutch koala’s womb.
Whichever wholesale newlywedded stooge
Thus weakly burns my hot Miltonic hash
(Othello hardware filthiest if huge):
Oh beat it, healthy mummy, with your stash.
Somehow athletic vulture wavelength dies
In wet Ohio sweethearts’ brainwashed eyes.
Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”)
MSN vs. CNN: Chhhhilllll! Celts vs. My Butt: Fffffetttttttttttttcchhhh! www.shaven.com: Sssshhhhhhh!I wonder how much kittens suck at math.
I wonder if Madonna uses Gmail.
Does Willie Nelson ever take a bath?
Is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi male or female?
You owe me forty dollars, by the way.
You bet me that I couldn’t eat a towel.
I ate it. Now you owe me, Rachael Ray.
—Your loyal friend (and lawyer), Thurston Howell.
I’m getting high in Arkansas with Stryper.
It’s no big deal, this happens all the time.
In Idaho I donned a rubber diaper
As Evanescence squirted me with slime.
So hotsy hotsy hotsy hot we got,
So hotsy hotsy hotsy hotsy hot.
Sonnet 77 (“Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear”) - canopycanopycanopy.com/issues/20/contents/psychoanalytic-night-at-hootersTHE BOWL OF LUCKY CHARMS PROJECT
guess what court supervision bitch
all of a sudden like whoa
I got the typical flat maize pancake “tortilla”
spilling from under the rabbit costume
“aw yeah that does stink”
I had a dream about a kitten last night
I kept trying to put it in the litterbox
and it kept getting away from me somehow
as I put it in the fridge I pulled out a video cassette
“Making Love out of Nothing at All”
(Air Supply) put it in my mouth
put it in the oven
in our phony make-believe oven
an’ bake bine a gawnish bastie
an’ he’s got one o’ the warm tins
o’ beer an’ he’s put it in the hole
like Greenspan gave the order
to crank out 190 billion dollars put it in the banks
make sure they capitalize it put it in bold print
repeated for like ever
I said it would rock if someone
made a clockwork mouse and put it
in the woods to teach me a lesson
nothing but downbeat groovery in NASA spacegear
that’s what’s been holding me together
& women holding doctorates in a series of narrow tunnels
tunnels I could not fit down that’s right
then you honed it down with the Abu Ghraib people
& a badly drawn blue goblin holding two axes
wearing clothes & “honkin’ down the highway”
(that struck me as not very punk rock)
he is currently holding auditions for teenage girls
funny but you have to see the video he’s holding up
what many consider the ultimate wife of David Bowie
these days she’s all “Watership Down”
I was seriously thinking of holding a funeral for dinosaurs
who had been heroes of socialist drag queens
I thought there could be no greater guy who was asking me
(unpatriotic Sikh middle name) “ouch”
don’t bring me der explosion
I talk not up to par with James Taylor all the way
I like and listen to the prog-rock band Marillion
I am going to lay down for half an hour
TABLEAU SANS CAPTIONS
for Shanna Compton
I’m not one of those women who freaks out when a bee lands
in my office and drops a large wad of cash on my desk
but I think sissy is okay
I am not going to open the files people send me
that concludes our stomachs welcome an first having
I started screaming about a bee in the car
I am not going swimming in the big blue sea
“the sea?” said he “yes, at the knee by the sea
on Friday at half past three” said the bee
re: buh! boo bee bay bee buh beep beep bee bee beep
the guys am cracking up over “bay-bee? baay-beee?”
may-be the ding-o down-loa-ded your mu-sic
he doesn’t be-bop to hip-hop tunes
his vice principal did a phenomenal job
I didn’t have a chance he was very accident
I am so not going out with you now I’m retail-bound
I am so not going to come to school in hideous track-pants
that serves no purpose except making your thighs appear ginormous
I was sticking my fingers in one end
thinking I’d nudge the wad of shredded carrots
and also the peloton had been split by the climb
it swivels (who cares about swiveling)
you know, I am so not going
to call a caption contest on this tableau
there are these individual people throughout the world who are on NPR
it will solve so much problems but no, I am not going to a net cafe
I am not going there in case anyone is in need of something
this is about the wonderful time
Noel had with his girlfriend Carly
in a nice place run by the Unitarian Church
thanks to my cross-cultural connection
menstruation didn’t win the election
I got in an argument
inside of a tent
my late Uncle God
was in such an anti-tax mood
Jewish & Muslim women never hesitate
to reach for the last beer
and sometimes in academia an Asian woman
wearing an orange-pink T-shirt came
and greeted her Asian girlfriend
back to the verdant landscape of strip malls
Vancouver is far
from western Massachusetts
I saw a black-and-white picture of a cow
that had been flattened against a rock
repeated over and over
no decent guy beats up his girlfriend
and then buys her a chocolate orange
for Richard Greene
words are not the food of owls
polar bears’ fur is not white
so you should not think that they are strong like God
stray kittens from the pinewoods gulp the form
adults recycle the mice back into the mythology
to extract the juices from one unique characteristic that is not shared
they have signs posted that tell us not to throw loads of owls
it would seem that instinctive recognition of acorns
reflects the views of the developers of the unit
specifically Maine-relevant news not being publicized
does not reflect finger puppets of owls and moles
the words are chosen to provide users with the same object
such a great talker could not fail to this stuffy hole
understand these things I am telling you
this is not a book about the contents of the stomachs of owls in particular
go your way for the words are closed up
there are many more stories out there
not all end the same way
the library near my house is a Starbucks and that is not good