What we did on summer vacation…

Students, alums, and faculty were busy making us proud this summer and into September:

Joe Sacksteder‘s sound poems were published at textsound: http://textsound.org/index.php?ISSUE=13.  Joe also had a story published in Booth (Sept 7): http://booth.butler.edu

Peter Markus was named a Kresge Arts Fellow for 2012.

Elizabeth Mikesch, Gerard Breitenbeck, and Ned Randolph spent two weeks on a  cultural exchange and workshop in Lisbon, Portugal.

Brynne Barnes‘ children’s book, Colors of Me, won its third award: The Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for First Published Work: http://www.gelettburgesscenter.com/2012_honors.php.

Kudos to everyone for their awesome achievements!

Gerard Breitenbeck’s Introduction from Taylor Brady’s BathHouse Reading

Enjoy another taste of the recent Taylor Brady BathHouse Reading via the following introduction from the reading by EMU Creative Writing graduate student Gerard Breitenbeck:

The BathHouse Reading Series is not only about shifting our perspectives, but redefining them. Tonight we welcome a writer whose work is all about redefining perspectives, not only with respect to the micro-politics of daily life, but also within the scope of narrative and literature itself.  

Taylor Brady lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is the author of many acclaimed works including Microclimates, Yesterday’s News, and Occupational Treatment, as well Snow Sensitive Skin, a collaboration with our own Professor Rob Halpern. 

Brady’s writing resists our efforts to know it; this is no accident, but a deliberate, ethical decision. Brady refers to narrative as “…the elaboration of an ongoing experience of missing the point.” Encountering his work is like encountering another human being when we stumble into those lucky, horrifying moments of social amnesia and forget categories and conventions, like staring into a prism of infinite complexity. And we are at a loss for description, as to grant privileged attention to one colored refraction is to do violence to the rest.

Or maybe it’s more like some hyper-paced plate-tectonics, confounding every would-be Magellan by shifting territory faster than the hand that presumes to draw the map. We feel lost in Brady’s prose and verse; it is a bucking bronco that wants to throw you, a determined resolve that shapes and intensifies its kicks and whips and thrashing in direct response to your efforts to hang on.

We might be inclined to resent him for this. What I mean is, at first I  was inclined to resent him for this. I felt as though I had to leave a trail of bread crumbs behind me just to find a way out of his sentences.

But then I realized his work was drawing attention to the very content of my efforts to keep up, my desperate and frustrated need to extract and isolate meaning from these words and images. I found myself wondering just from where I was getting all these meaning-seeking bread crumbs, just how it is I had pockets full of them. I began to find that these crumbs weren’t arbitrary or shapeless at all. They had character and inclinations and attitudes, and a sort of  spooky unspeakable context the way dreams have. But they weren’t dreams at all; rather, they were like wrinkles in the fabric between myself and my waking reality, a fabric which usually hangs as a veil, too sheer and familiar to notice.

I began to see his sentences, and my memories, and thoughts, and sense-making efforts as though set up in some third place like a rec center basement or high ceiling garage, with each of these elements embodied and sitting in a circle on gray metal folding chairs sharing some telepathic conversation in words made out of dream-context anti-words. And because no one is really talking, everyone speaks at once, if without conclusion, than certainly not without consequence.

I imagined the work as a kind of four dimensional map of our social relations, which, as tangled and dynamic as they may be, here are teased and felt and thoroughly investigated in something of a web of associations or a melting collaborative landscape. And that it was this landscape that is our social reality; that we carry this rec center basement collective around with us, every moment of every day.

Sharing in this landscape, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Taylor Brady.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Brenda Iijima

Another review from Creative Writing grad student Gerard Breitenbeck; this time Gerard reviews Brenda Iijima’s recent BathHouse reading:

Professor Carla Harryman introduced Brenda Iijima to the Dreamland Theater in downtown Ypsilanti, speaking of her strengths as a poet who writes both inventively and politically. Following Professor Harryman, a small group of her undergraduate students presented their own poetically minded introductions, insightful and often surprising soundscapes.

Iijima begins by playing a video of her from Youtube, which depicts her dancing in a flowing dress on the front lawn of her mother’s house, in a salute to women labeled derogatively as witches.

“You might be bored by oxen, or you might be predisposed to oxen.” The Donkey poem explores what it is to be a donkey, or rather, what common language would conceive a donkey to be. Lines like “They are donkeys, they go by the name donkeys, humans call them donkeys, they are recognizable as donkeys” suggest the distance and alienation language affords humanity, particularly from other animals as we reduce them to the most utilitarian conception we can muster.

Iijima continues this theme with meditations on Mules, Pumpkins, Pork, Polar Bears, and Swans; inviting us to consider the nature and implications of how we conceive of the animals and plants around us. By placing under a microscope the reductive, exploitative language we use to relate to other living things, Iijima prompts an internal and external discussion on the nature of how language has been constructed, and for what purposes it finds itself employed. It would seem, Iijima leads us to consider, that like the Donkey and its similarly burdened counterparts, language itself has been subjugated for the purposes of alienation, hierarchy, and patriarchal hegemony.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Cathy Park Hong

Creative Writing grad student Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Cathy Park Hong’s BathHouse reading from earlier this semester:

In Sean Kilpatrick’s introduction of Cathy Park Hong,  he notes that “Each line performs like a thousand tongues dueling,” and that we will be privy to “See cultures splayed and reviled by a renegade architect.” Indeed, reading from the collection, Dance Dance Revolution, Hong delivers her work with a keen attention to the way language spars culturally and colloquially, jumping from English to Korean to corporate lingo to slang.

For Hong, language as a living organism of revolt and assimilation. Dance Dance Revolution, centered in a Las Vegas-esque Desert city, is peppered with phrases like  “Bling-bladda-bling,” alongside “Blood rust has been windexed to amber shine.”

Hong embodies the performative aspect of poetry reading, all the while remaining physically reserved behind the podium on the Student Center Auditorium stage. Nevertheless, she reads actively and emphatically, with careful inflection and dynamic speed and accents.

Hong’s work appears concerned with authenticity and artifice. “Once the desert was actually a desert,” she writes. What can be discerned as genuine, and if anything, or anyone can be so called, what is the nature of that determination? It would seem that if anything could be called genuine, it would be paradoxically something that crosses boundaries, blurs distinctions and therefore our means of measuring it against expectations of other genuine things. “Let’s toast to bountiful gene pool, to intermarried couples breeding beige population.”

Hong’s work is future-minded, troubled, but  brazen and strangely optimistic. Lines like “Bring me my napkin. My thumb is smudged with the horizon” suggest that living is an active, continuing encounter with the world around us, and we can’t help but change with what it means to be alive, and change the world with us.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Eric Lorberer and Barrett Watten

EMU grad student Gerard Breitenbeck reviews the recent BathHouse reading that featured Eric Lorberer and Barrett Watten:

Ned Randolph introduced first Eric Lorberer who went on to speak about public art, art in a shared space and related questions of ownership and permanence vs. ephemerally. He focused on the Ashbury Bridge in Minneapolis. A person crossing it should look at it differently than the artist who created it. Armajani is an Iranian born artist who gravitates toward art for purpose and public consumption. He loves gazebos, plaza, and especially bridges. His professed hope is to create works “Halfway between sculpture and architecture,” works which only get their full meaning through their pragmatic use.

Lorberer describes how the Ashbery Bridge was created jointly between worlds of politics and art, as well as the combination of three different bridge structures: steel tresses, suspension bridges, and arch bridges. One of the governing notions is the collision or joining of multiple worlds, as shown in the bridge’s mirror effect, the colors light blue and light yellow, and the use of beams and spaces as poetic breaks (ashora). All of which makes the bridge both an operational bridge and a living mediation on “bridgeness”, the idea of bridging and crossover and connection itself.

Lorberer takes us visually through the poem Ashbery wrote for the bridge. While most public poems duplicate the experience of the page, here the poem as traverses the length of the bridge. Overall, Lorberer demonstrates how Ashbery and Armajani present a bridge as something more than just a way to get from one place to another. Not only does it frame the city around it,  it is a site unto itself, a location to visit for the sake of it’s art and beauty; and yet to experience it, one cannot help but find themselves on the other side, having used it for what it most basically is.

After a short break, Ned Randolph then introduced Barrett Watten, a founding L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet. Watten focused his talk on the author as site. He began by discussing some of Robert Smithson’s works, including the site-specific pieces Broken Circle, Spiral Jetty, Buried Shed; as well as non-site works such as the Mirrors series. Watten then showed how Smithson began moving the mirrors outside into physical landscape, incorporating nonsite work in the site specific. He spoke of the entropic nature of much of Smithson’s work, such as the Glue Pour; that is, pieces which draw attention to the irreversibility of artistic creation.

Watten spoke of the visual component of the work of language poets, as is evidenced in Smithson’s Heap of Language. He then showed us three sites in which Watten’s poetry had been transformed into site-specific art. The first was the Addison street project in Berkley, which utilized small plaques in the sidewalk with poetry embossed on them, a direct mimicry of the page. Next came the Introduction to the Letter T, an Amajani project, in which a lengthy original poem had been distilled into a series of tiled images into a walkway, as well as two whole lines from the poem: “Things should correspond to open doors” and “There should be more outside.” Last came the Des Moines public library chess courtyard, in which various lines of another lengthy poem were incorporated into fences outlining the environment.

Watten closed speaking of the poet Laura Riding Jackson’s final and uncompleted  project, a dictionary called “Rational Meaning,” which endeavored to be the last word with proper meaning of words, conceiving that in any given context there was but one ultimately correct word. For instance, Jackson would contend that the words “Structure, building, edifice, form, and construction,” aren’t interchangeable. In other words, Jackson came to believe that Language rather than usage defined meaning, which is a curious position for a modernist to take, and opens up a host of interesting questions with respect to how we conceive of the role of language in art and our lives, as well as the location and possibility of artistic intention and meaning.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Julie Patton

The Julie Patton reviews keep coming.  Gerard Breitenbeck reviews her recent BathHouse reading:

Rob Halpern introduced poet Julie Patton by citing works such as Room for Opal, Using Blue to get Black, and Notes for some (Nominally) Awake. Having lived all over the United States and Europe, Patton currently resides in Cleveland where she’s involved in the Dandelion Society and other urban green initiatives. Her work defies description, Halpert conceded, but nevertheless as submitted as imperfect reductions: “Phono-linguistic pictographs, real-time choreographies and social dream-work.” Patton “explodes typographic connections on page and detours common sense off page.” She “stimulates language games, risks nonsense for new sense, making intrinsic structures volatile enough to change.”

Patton began by speaking into the microphone “Is it possible that the meaning…” letting the last word drone and extend and erode, finally picking it up “is the meaning of another kind… Like what is the language in it… Made… Mated… Aided…Hated…” This transcription obviously fails to replicate the performance, as one of the things which stands out about Patton during is the sensuality embodied in her speech as well as her movements. One gets the sense that Patton’s encounter with words is a living encounter, a real-time exploration of the acoustic parameters and attributes of the word “Made” for instance, a open-eyed stroll through the neighborhood of “Made,” interested in conversing with all its inhabitants.

In the course of her further readings, which are less separate episodes then scenes in a play, unified progressions in a singular performance, Patton employed a tambourine, bells, and one of those turning crank things, among other instruments. In addition, she was accompanied throughout by an ethereal guitar.

In the first few moments of her performance, Patton, clutching a disheveled collection of notes and pages and books, dropped a page in what appeared to be an accident. She did not pick it up, and as the performance progressed it became more difficult to discern whether it had been an accident or not. By the end of the reading, it became clear that the concept of accidents would be absurd as it’s commonly understood. Rather, the paper came free from her hands and came to a rest on the stage, and that was a good place for it, it having found it’s place there. Patton would find herself as well on the floor many times during the performance, sometimes crouched, or on her back, or all fours, sometimes crawling prone down steps, shoes long relinquished in favor of mobility.

Patton uses the entire stage—the entire theater, in fact. At one point she handed out instruments to the crowd, then called them all up in front of the stage. When she had the whole room on fire, her poetry had charged into screaming into the microphone and dancing around the stage before collapsing in orgasmic rapture.

Later, when all had quieted down again, a late coming student entered the theater, and Patton, not missing a beat, acts dramatically startled with a punctuating gasp in the middle of her poem, as though it were all carefully orchestrated and meaningful. Which, of course, in a sense, it is.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Christian Bök

Grad student Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Christian Bök’s recent BathHouse reading:

Appropriately enough, Christine Hume concluded her introduction of Christian Bök with a poem she composed consisting only of the letters which make up the poet’s name. Christian then took the podium and read two Hugo Ball poems which to the uninitiated could be described as something along the lines of beat-boxing but more free form and using every object imaginable as a sound model rather than just a drum kit. He followed these with readings from his Bestselling book Eunoia, of which he promised, given the demographics of the crowd, he would read exclusively from the “naughty parts”.

He then read the Lego Poem Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit, and explained how coincidentally the permutations of the Lego creator’s patent write up matches with Democritus’ ancient outline of the theory of the atomic nature of the universe.

Very enjoyable was the series which involved a robot or computer speaking, consisting of many repetitions such as “I think so but I’m not completely sure” and “I don’t know if I’m pessimistic, I’m a giant electronic brain.” He followed this with a sung rendition of an alien hymn from the television show Earth: Final Conflict, the language of which he invented.

Christian then went on to discuss the Xenotech Project, which he outlined as implanting a poem in a bacterium specially selected to outlast just about any physical contingency over the course of millions of years, and the DNA code to be implanted would itself both be a poem and, as fully functioning genetic instructions, facilitate the creation inside the bacterium of a “Response” poem in the form of a protein. Thus the poetic DNA and the protein response would be both physically salient as well as poetically coherent and meaningful.

The Q&A following the performance was remarkably in-depth in terms of the comprehension Christian was inclined to go in answering the questions posed to him. First concerned the field of Pataphysics, the study of science that doesn’t exist. Christian explained how Pataphysics functioned in a world in which science doesn’t always realize its linguistic/metaphysical implications/impact and how poetry can be a powerful tool in engaging science to deal with these questions, though outside of Pataphysics poetry has a poor track record for engaging science and the way it’s changing our world.

He then went into greater elucidation regarding the Xenotech Experiment, giving the room a remarkably comprehensible crash course in genetics in about five minutes. He went on to describe the arduous process of isolating letter pairs to use for the poems which consisted of months and months of trial and error in order to find a series of pairs that would both permit a sensible initial poem and an intelligible response (the rigors of which being no doubt confusing to those not graced with Christian’s genetics lesson, suffice to say that in order to create a working genetic poem one has to operate in some ludicrously tight constraints that could be likened to a three dimensional crossword puzzle with a limited amount of letters and no clues).

Christian then spoke for a time about his philosophy of poetry and beauty and literary merit which he boiled down to: Making sense, looking effortless, having thematic complexity, re-readability, and finally, that it is Amazing. The amazing part he expanded upon as being unique/anomalous, as well as containing the qualities mentioned above.

We were then treated to a mini-poetry class in which Christian instructed us in how to make a quick and easy poem that wasn’t terrible. The method involved using concrete, specific nouns over vague, abstract ones, eliminating passive verbs and using verbs to make our concrete nouns do things they usually don’t, using anomalous adjectives and adverbs or better still none at all.

The poet’s readings emphasized the performance nature of poetry, his distinctive presence and delivery pronounced and enunciated. In the Q&A he demonstrated himself as someone who is extraordinarily enmeshed and dedicated to what he does and loves to discuss it at length.  Overall, Christian Bök is clearly a poet operating in a fascinating niche of his own design, and one in which he appears very much at home.

Gerard Breitenbeck reviews CRTW Faculty BathHouse Reading

Another BathHouse review, this time from Creative Writing grad student Gerard Breitenbeck:

Reading from “Shot,” “The Liberation of Soggy Muff” and “I Exhume myself Depending on my Last Name,” Christine Hume’s multimedia performance conjures the musicality of poetry as it examines what it means to be present in a poetry reading as well as what it means to be present in day to day life.

“If I want to listen, I turn to the left” (repeats over and over).

The multimedia presentation utilizes the repitition of prerecorded sounds or phrases, adding layers to the experience such as startling the audience by anticipating what particular lines will continue to resonate moments after Christine has spoken them.

“If it would fist me.” “If it would fist me.” “If it would fist me.”

In a poem inspired around a recurring dream, brief interruptions of static punctuate the rendition, simulating periodic gaps in dream logic, dream memory, and our waking train of thought.

The poem “I Exhume myself Depending on my Last Name” builds slowly through chanting words such as “Digging, sleeping, starving, drinking, thinking,” buttressed by the rhymic sounds of dirt being dug. At one point, Christine stops speaking and her recorded voice comes in as she waits and then continues. Lines such as, “Under an electric blanket on high in august” provide a good example of the breathless confinement of the piece.

Carla Harryman read largely from a series of works written from the point of view of an infant. The perspective and thought process of the character Baby informs new ways of conceiving the world and ourselves.

Baby believes teenagers to be the most wise type of people due to their brooding intesity, independence, and ability to perceive things as they are. But really it is Baby that is presented as having the most to teach us through her frequency of surprise and the intensity of novelty. Suggesting that “Babies live the longest because Baby continues to live inside all of us,” we look to Baby’s perspecitve as a means of reclaiming or reestablishing a connection with that part of ourself.

“Sin was something associated with being in the world.”

The surrealism of Baby’s associations are both humorous and thought provoking with respect to speculating and investigating where our own associations may have originated, as when she hears about the “Fat Cats” and wants to give pie to them because since they are fat cats they would presumably very much enjoy the pie. This accociation, like many for Baby, are related to Baby’s imaginary companion Tiger. As smells and objects and things overheard provoke conversation with Tiger, the interaction can be seen as the shaping of  Baby’s self.

Rob Halpern’s “Love Song to My Fallen Soldier” and other poems create a dynamic conversation about Love and War by using either to examine the other. “Fallen Soldier” ends with, “Singing of shit and all your hemorrhaging affections,” which is an apt example of the feel and thought of the works. In his efforts to elucidate intimate longing with distant wars and disasters, Halpern presents a perspective of sex as war and love as disaster.

“That armored vehicle with the high tech border patrol that takes your body to be something exploited.”

Conversely, Halpern uses the irrational passions of love and longing to draw connections with the myopic dedication of soldiers and war machines, the losing of the self into the thing which you find yourself committed, and the pain and loss of it all coming apart before your eyes.