Search This Blog

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Notes from the Center on Public Policy

My subject is Mark Wallace’s Notes from the Center on Public Policy (Altered Scale 2014), but I begin with some reflections of Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book (U. Cal., 2011). I must also note with sadness due to the ephemerality of the web, as Jeff Derkson noted on his blog. In any case, the fine works produced at Altered Scale, even those that took paperback form, are now extremely difficult to find.

For Duncan, to simplify, the work of H.D., E.P., as well as his own, is “making it new.” Make something old and missing again vital, restoring ourselves to ourselves. Poetry is understood as a process of old forms, old forces, and old faces surfacing through the palimpsests that are the multiple surfaces of new work. The perception of immanence, that, by contrast to Duncan, I sometimes seek to articulate, lies among multiple discrete parts, associated by contiguities and discontinuities that reveal rifts and aporias. These gaps may indeed be all or the only stuff of immanence, an articulation of negative space. Otherwise the work product may more nearly resemble Brownian movement in a perpetually transformative swirl, never patterned entelechies.

Duncan writes, “the time of a poem is felt as a recognition of a return in vowel tone and in consonant formations, of pattern in the sequence of syllables, in stress and in pitch of a melody, of images and meanings” (99). Beauty of language aside, the factor of a return is crucial for Duncan, not Wallace. Within the phrasing and semantic drift of Wallace’s unrelenting and convoluted paragraphs, there is little attention to the prosodic features that so delight Duncan and which many today, including myself, often build into poetry as baroque ornamentation, if not evidence of soulfulness. Wallace evokes the anti-humanistic ethos of our corporate and message-driven world of political and consumerist clichés, offering page after page of sculpted but cumulatively directionless paragraphs. For Wallace, it seems then, that there is now no poetry, at least of the identifiable sort dear to Duncan. The book intends primarily, however, to mock the accumulation of human capital that is central to the postmodernism of Pierre Bourdieu. Swirling contradictory and inconclusive utterances test received notions of the real at every turn (15). The role of communication supersedes the value of the subject of communication. “Each official communication existed primarily to cement its relations to the previous communication while doing nothing about what it discussed” (18). Such abstract “cement” is the only perceptible real in this text. “It was impossible not to react. Revenge, retaliation, blame, sadness, seeking, seeking, analysis, cautious tentative balances, organizing, protesting, trading information, looking below or on surfaces, moaning lyricism, personal confessions …”(31). The list is endless, the commas do lend the phrasing a noticeable rhythmic effect. The passage denigrates any lyric value that might be attached to the ego (an expected effect). The long sentence cited above ends “no one was listening.” Language has attained the despairing depths familiar to Duncan’s sometime friend Jack Spicer. The language is not rhapsodic, or seductive contra a Jean Baudrillard. It is the only production that we have, but it has little meaning apart from its function as “cement,” little substance; instead, claims become things (40). The philosophical aporia that bedevils claims to immanence becomes “the brink of a rift” (53), but “drift” supplies a rhyme a few lines down the page. Wallace’s phrasing is impeccable, even at its most tedious. Accidentally, or as a result of dumb association, to my mind, as I read the above passage, I heard the word ”riff,” understood as a take on a melody, ceaselessly and purposefully mundane. With such stuff, poetry may articulate its bare bones?

Donald Wellman

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cows nostrils are blue: an essay on practice with comments on Barrett Watten’s Questions of Poetics

“Cows nostrils are blue,” the thought came out of nowhere or maybe from a typo while translating a discrete phrase in a line from the poetry of Roberto Echavarren. I claim authorship, however, and want to discuss both the language and the image conveyed by the language. The context is remarks made by Barrett Watten in his recent book, Questions of Poetics. Watten has divided the world of postmodern American poetry into two broad swathes. Poets have now become poet/critics, so the argument runs. Both of these conjoined identities have their origin in William Carlos Williams, specifically, the poetry/prose division or duality inscribed within the text of Spring and All. The poet/critic, it turns out, is a figure, circumscribed between a duality of lyric utterance that is largely subjective and an objective critical persona who performs the duty of declaring that the language and imagery of the poem have universal significance (although Williams’s prose deliberately undercuts poetic seriousness). The “turn toward language,” associated with the figures of Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Carla Harryman, Lynn Hejinian, among others including Watten himself, is understood as transforming a precarious and untenable duality into an embrace of socially-conditioned textuality. One could say that the critical function, rather than being split off, has been absorbed within the empirical functioning of the poet. The “expanded field” of the title comes to be when the poet welds together essayistic critical thought with the bending of syntax at the lyrical level of versification. And that critical function is not always about language, although language is one aspect of the socially constructed world that engages the critical intelligence of the poet; however, rather than being only grammatical, the language also engages, is modified by and modifies, the perception of social reality, its economics and politics. Of course the turn toward language as grammar or etymology is also very present in the work of both Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. These poets may or may not have excavated a radical particularity that deconstructs implicit social facts. “Social facts” is a term I borrow from Berthold Brecht. So the turn toward language in Olson does not perhaps push very far into social implications although his work, Watten acknowledges, also sets the course for the emergence of the postmodern “poet/critic.”

Let’s return to the image of “cows nostrils.” The object-image, does not share the same level or mode of objectivity, as a statement about rampant racism in the hiring practices of academia or about the homosocial milieu of much Black Mountain poetry (that is Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s position). But to the “cow,” I have reason to believe it is a porcelain animal with flared nostrils. Blue because of the glaze or alternatively blue, out there in the pasture where it grazes, blue because of a nasal drip. I imagine a fusty atmosphere whose bric-a-brac require dusting, or a pastoral scene where pollen dust excites allergies. Meaning, if there is any here, would seem to derive from opaque personal associations and fall into the category that Watten associates with the “autonomous monad of lyrical poetry” (103).  Reading requires “envisagement.” The promise of universal meaning has been cut off by severe opacity, lost, betrayed. The reader is unable to envisage meaning and so concocts an envisagement in a game effort to appreciate the image. The concept of envisagement is central to Ron Silliman’s “new sentence,” a sentence with unexpected torqueing of associations that impel the reader to envisage meaning because of an in-built thirst for coherence.[1] One might look at the phrase, “cows nostrils are blue,” as language instead of as an example of a concrete particular. The statement is a fully declarative utterance and also a universalizing utterance, admitting of no challenge to its truth. Perhaps the reader can ingest the declaration and respond with speech acts. The text remains amusingly opaque. A second way of mastering the challenge of the concrete particular, as Watten understands it, would be to ground the work within a social horizon. An example from Silliman’s “toner,” for instance, employs references to the Vietnam War and the Manson murders.
Le Duc Tho. In memory’s slomo,
bullshit monk flickers smoldering,
and goes out.

Up against the all in-inclusive
Fate of what?
                        Charlie Manson look-alike
tried to thumb a ride.
Gears mock
                        industrial song
the way fear makes a long night.[2]
Here the referents exist in socio-historical space, not some imagist nirvana like my cow. Allusion instead of image is primary for establishing “radical” or analytical usage, and that usage is not necessarily objective, although it is tested for what might be called its truth value. Watten continues, “The monolog takes itself apart only to recombine again” (93). This auto-analysis constitutes the turn toward language. Note, however, that unfolding syntax of this order may be associated not only with language writing but also with the American and Latin forms of the Neo-baroque that are central to my current studies. The rhyme of ”gears” and “fears” used here by Silliman for an emphatic closure is not very different from  baroque ornamentation. Indeed my sample phrase can be understood as multiply complex too, a palimpsest of folded forms. A blue cow with blue nostrils is sacred to Krishna for instance. And then there is the folkloric “babe” the blue ox.

The bifurcated allegiance of the expressivist poet who employs objective reference and thereby hopes to register personal affect or subjectivity, on the one hand, and the language poet, on the other hand, who turns to language in order to engage the social constructedness of the text is the subject of Chapter Six, “The Expanded Object in the Poetic Field.” This essay reads as a summative clarification of the rules of the game, hypothetically. The poet no longer suffers from the abyssal failure associated with the particular/universal divide. Watten’s text offers a hypothetical thought game. The example of Olson is used to examine a failure to incorporate truths of a social order; for instance, Olson’s method is said to ignore the relation of gender to production whereas language-centered work is produced in a diversely gendered working group. Social history is referenced in order to support claims of “radical immanence” on behalf of language-associated poets (213). The articulation of a very different “radical immanence,” grounded in the work of Giles Deleuze, is a central aim of my current studies. Olson’s engagement with gender, contra Watten, is the subject of the essay, “Olson and Subjectivity,” where I argue that deeply gendered perceptions of the role of his father and his mother and the loss of his wife, Bette, constitute an engagement with gender that is disturbing because of its effects in the social field of the family and the poem.[3]

Olson’s stance is identified by Watten as one of “antidualist immanence” wherein the poet/critics internal splitting is not recognized by a poetics that claims to engage knowledge through poetic inquiry. The contrast to Olson’s projective method is a concept of “textuality” (214). Watten cites the homosociality” of Olson and his close followers and contrasts it with the multiple ways in which language writing engaged women as social equals within the working group, an oft commented difference.[4] What is the effect of this demographic divide on “textuality”? As an example of “textuality,” Peter Seaton’s “An Example from the Literature” is cited:
There is no text and its pleasures devolve
Upon this tristesse. There’s always a logic
in which the security of the existence of the momentarily
Unimaginable is ignored in the down to earth
Construction of the perfect poem. (cited Watten 215)
Indeed “desire” and “melancholy” are presented here as subjective and resistant to “textuality.” Gender itself is neither marked nor unmarked. In general female language poets address gender-based controversies factually. A delicious catalog of gendered perceptions is the subject of Lyn Hejinian and Carla Harryman’s  The Wide Road. One passage reads, “A milky blue steam rises to the surface of the sky. / Everything overlaps. All that is animate is abstract.”[5] Gender does inform perception. Always, but here the presentation of the image is highly opaque and the entailed commentary is gnomic and universal. The example presents both poles of the of the argument that Watten develops concerning the poet/critic in Questions of Poetics. The universalizing element is figured ironic.
Watten’s perceptions will engage the reader who is familiar with the territory cited. They may serve as an introduction to the differences between the poetry of late modernism and the poetry associated with the “turn toward language” in the 70s. He tends to argue from a position that entertains hypothetical assertions whose truth value may be doubtful and which take convoluted, densely packed form. He cites multiple and redundant polarities in intriguing ways, productive for the reader of engaged reflection. Nothing he says can be dismissed as irrelevant to the history of language-centered writing and its potential future influence. The flux of the intellectual force may seem stunted because the negative pole to textuality, the pole associated with immanence, is a too strong attractor possessed of its own uncanny energy. In any case, references to “immanence,” in one form or another, are numerous. Indeterminacy of meaning, falling within different registers, remains a characteristic of both late modernism/postmodernism (the school of Olson) and the work associated with language writing. Abstractions found in the “language-identified” poetry cited in these paragraphs offer no particularly radical constructs…similarly so Olson’s concrete particulars, even Williams’s were no guarantor of coherence. Questions of Poetics nonetheless, offers an occasion for engaging different registers and overlays of the poetics of texturality.

[1] See “The New Sentence” in The New Sentence (NY: Roof, 1985) 63-93.
[2] Ron Silliman, The Alphabet (Alabama 2008) 486.
[3] “Olson and Subjectivity: 'Projective Verse' and The Uncertainties of Sex.” Olson Now: Documents. Electronic Poetry Center. SUNY BuffaloDec. 8, 2005. A revised version appears in Olson's Prose, Gary Grieve-Carlson editor (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007) 47-61.
[4] Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Purple Passages (Iowa City : Iowa 2012) 129 and 215n14 where my “Olson and Subjectivity” is discussed.
[5] NY: Belladonna, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Meditative verses, after reflecting on Lowell's stone: My Woods, my Forest, my Grove of Rib Bones

My Woods, my Forest, my Grove of Rib Bones

Now that I’ve reread again the funereal Moby Dick,
and pondered its display of gallows’ humor, I ask
is it but a catalog of wry, unfounded observation?
Infectious its diction! “I am horror-struck at this antemosaic,
unsourced existence of the unspeakable horrors
of the whale, which, having been before all time,
must needs exist after all human ages are over.”
Or was he before me in distinguishing “the slice
of appearance” from “the being of appearance.”
All my children have loved the Metropolitan Museum
and played upon the steps of the temple of Dendron,
where scholars have discerned early forms of the whale:
like Herman, I measure affect with obscure reference.
Irony affects melancholic wit. American vitriol,
learned from a Hawthorne in the Massachusetts woods.
In my sunken wetlands, shadows replace leviathan
and serve as hooks from which depend the shrouds
or diapering clothes of the deceased and newly fledged
authors who have been cited in my monadologies
and in hymns to the God of Love. There’s Robert Lowell
under his faux puritan gravestone beside his parents
in the Stark cemetery, Dunbarton, but a woodland jog
from my home. Creeley at Mount Auburn displays
commemorative pebbles atop his slab. Poets’ words,
“at one with the peace that we knew in her presence,”
have memorialized deceased mothers, wives and children,
inscribed medallions for antique mementos mori. 

Whispering “To Celia,” in his baroque,
old Ben Jonson found at Penshurst flattering words
for his Forests and Timbers, epigrams that spice his Woods,
“Arts and Precepts availe nothing, except nature be
beneficiall, and ayding.” On a misty August night
with waning moon, antique trolls in buskin
and slouch hats, capotain with ostrich feather plume,
populate the star-torn wind, mad fellows, exiled dwarves
from a Spanish court in the time of Velasquez or Rubens.
These my woods, not so far from those of Robert Frost, 
a stile separates the graveyard from flood-control lands.
For echo I choose Emily’s house that only wrinkles
an earthen brow, “the Cornice in the Ground.”

During the Vietnam Era, I sought to avoid the draft.
I wrote a thesis on “Judgement” in Volpone. 
The duplicity of office holders confused
meaning and truth. I desired the death of the symbol
in my personal melodrama of “Fort!” and Da!”
Gardens within gardens, animals within animals,
each fulguration of the monad instantiates eternity.
I prepare through feigned indifference for judgement day.
Nor god-ridden, nor bed ridden, I stand on the roof beam
and survey Cetus between Pisces and Eridanus,
that maps the passage to the South Pole Purgatorium
on whose shores I once encountered a healing vision
of a nurse who sat at a frozen window. A gnomon
divided time past from time to come, itself a sail
that approached the shore and scaled the glass wall of heaven.
Countless numbers of the recently dead from Syria
and the flood plain of the Brahmaputra were stacked
in slabs upon the shore where funeral pyres shuddered
with skyward ascending sparks and the cracking of bones.
How dare the poet write of pastoral woodland tombs
amidst such slaughter? Has the poet all alone
in his house of shadows no children that require
succor and feeding? Ironic melancholy helps him
survive the titanic glare of fate-embossed night skies.
Where does the vision begin or end, thoughts
inscribed upon the waves and echoed in the stars.
He smirks as he has found another tragic metaphor,
readily at hand, another posture to assume
as affected souls leave the room and its acrid air.
He shrugs, poetry never served locally as awakening,
nor universally, in the last two centuries since Edwards
at this pulpit harangued the fearful faithful with visions
of spiders suspended above the pit of hell, a sword descending
through the hollow-hearted dome of recursive dreams
that constitute their own reality, personal paranoia unpoliced
by reason or decorum as it pushes new inventions forth.
From the doldrums of the brain spring fire and ice.
Shrouds that are both lifelines and garments of the soul,
encased in hoarfrost, snap in the Antarctic winds.
Melancholy as Freud asserts knows no end.

Donald Wellman

Monday, July 4, 2016

Nochixtlán, ("Prolog Pages," 2009):

[For news view LiveLeak]

Proud women
La Señora de Soledad
tiene una cara alba
On her altar of gold,
in her gown of gold
Black and white medallions
of her beneficence.
In her house, her son
hangs, dependent from
a vault of coiled gold.

Hyperbole of the cipher
Mayaguel is
The finery of goddesses
an infinity of beings
Torrential rain
softens clay
With four teats
Mother and virgin
Mixtec dress,
basket weavers,
red with gold bars
walking beside the road
toward the cattle pen.

Underlying expressions,
deeply erotic
Flowers for Angela
Singularly purposive
public insurrections
Badly educated
today’s children want
to think for themselves
Reform travels
from Nochixtlán,
escuela primaria,
in waves that fall away
shy of the plunge

Always a mouth to feed

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Vegetable" -- a phenomenological reduction

The vegetable dreams; its life is sleep. In it reality and dream are one, as in fantasy, for it dreams itself. And also because it sleeps permanently and what it dreams is what is. The plant is the shape of its dream.

In the animal bad dreams begin; the dream that is different from its own being, the nightmare. Nightmare is the dream opposed to life. The dream that bears down on consciousness or the hint of consciousness and that has to originate in the necessity for movement. The quiet vegetable, ecstatic, is immersed in its sleep and in not moving does not distinguish, between outside and inside. And so does not need to have consciousness.

Consciousness has risen from movement and the movement in turn makes it feel and creates the sensation of a rift in its reality, divides it into my “outside” and my “inside.” Movement is necessary for the animal, it is the generic form of its life, because its necessity is without limits. And because it must go far in search of its satisfaction and this too is its power. Without movement it has no power. And so the root of its necessity and the root of its power equally oblige it to move.

For the plant all must be felt inside, only gently may it feel the outside and not as such, but as a brush, as a wound in the worst case. The tree, the plant live their dream within, not only feeling the earth where its roots are buried, but all of space, the dome of the sky. For these are born not in going out from itself, but in a budding; a passing from darkness to light, and the air that continues to cover them as before the earth did the seed, but without oppression; an inside very spacious and light where its being unfolds and enters through subtle relations with “the other,” “the others,” as with the animal. “The other” which is the origin of “the enemy.”

The feeling for other bodies will present itself to them in different forms of relation without struggle, or antagonism; corresponding perhaps to moments of contemplation of the beautiful in human life.. The beautiful, even happiness devolves for man from the world where the vegetable has continued to live, since they bring it to the interior without boundaries. To a spacious “inside” where it is not imprisoned or exiled. To live outside is to wander in amazement and in struggle; to live inside is to be bound and isolated. This manner of vegetal  living and that which man enjoys when he feels beauty or is happy, is neither outside nor inside; participation in the life of the whole, without going to find it; is the presence not pursued; the being without boundaries that senses the richness of the universe unfolded. Meanwhile in human life one seeks the whole of that which “the other” [el otro] and “the other” [lo otro]  enclose within themselves, pursuing it, conquering it among the avatars of the necessity to possess what refuses us all the same, the quietude of living within and the freedom of living without.

Maria Zambrano, “El vegetal,” Roma 1954, Algunas lugares de la pintura, Madrid 1991 (Reprinted in Cuba secreta, ed. Jorge Luis Arcos, Colección ensayo, no. 90. Madrid, 1996: 148-49.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Addressing the poets who are at war over Charles Olson's Legacy

We gather today and examine a reading from Maximus IV, V, VI. Please note there are no page numbers to this edition, complicating the matter of indexing and requiring a scrupulous degree of attention. The selection is the last pages of Book V  and concludes with the lines that begin “off-upland / only Ubaid / gets “in” / to riverine / (Squam” The parenthesis is not closed as often is the case when Olson nests concepts within concepts. These lines are followed by a generous amount of white space, a usage of the keyboard that has nothing to do with Mallarméan white space. The words, “Old Norse / Algonquin,” follow. The suggestion is that there is an over-lay of different geographical riverine registers: Ubaid, where earliest agriculture may have begun in hills above the marshy shores of the Tigris-Euphrates confluence and the basin of the Annisquam.  One paratactic system is laid over the first in the line, “Old Norse / Algonquin,” an allusion to Leland’s Algonquin Legends of New England, where the argument is found that Norse loan-words populate Algonquin language since a time of earliest contact. This page will remind us both that Olson is a poet who “reads” and second that the process of paratactic nesting involves the construction of multiple fields in overlay or in nested matrices. I note that “reading” can also be a shamanistic process of decoding ream-images. And third, I stress, Olson is also a poet who invents his necessary fictions.

The pages selected for this morning’s reading begin with one of the most coherent narratives to be found in Maximus, the poem “The Gulf of Mane.” Olson alters his reading of the record of a storm and shipwreck in Damariscotta Harbor and of the underlying socio-political situation, by adding language that indicates a concern for the welfare of the widows of the lost sailors, “sturdy pense / in recompense / of their dear husbands.” He also projects a conclusion in which some ribs from the shipwreck be set up as a memorial for the valor of the lost sailors; although he doesn’t expect appreciation of the deep history enshrined by the memorial, he concedes with irony that “well-dressed persons” will “frequent it.” In this instance we find Olson the citizen of dour disposition. Is it an issue of false identification to suggest the presence of palpable, emotionally-based subjectivity in these lines?

Let’s continue our reading. Be advised, if you are following my subtext that we have already embraced several reading and interpretive strategies. The next page is labelled “Additional “Phoenician “ notes. The notes are oblique and inscrutable references to fertility cults practiced in the Persian Gulf or on Phoenician shores. C.J. Jung addresses some of this material. The next page, with a generous paratactic sweep, returns to the history of Gloucester with an account of the mass death of phalaropes or sea geese, lured to their destruction by lighthouses on Thatcher’s Island in 1899. The passage provides ample support for identifying Olson one of our first eco-poets.

The final matter discussed in today’s reading is the flawed reading of Anaximander to be found in Aristotle and Augustine. It is a brief passage involving a pun. If Anaximader is “alpha” with respect to ancient cosmography, then the others are beta and “in doing so beta’d / themselves.” I hear a down-east drawl.

Most curious then is that the next two pages are blank. Olson invites us to write as he does when he reads. His is a readerly writing. The blank pages may also provide an invitation to meditate. They may indicate a prolonged and dramatic pause before the matter of the riverine landscapes is addressed. Olson’s epic is often indeed, in oral terms, highly dramatic. It is a constructed project displaying deep levels of resonance. Part VI of Maximus which immediately follows offers the most exquisite lines in Olson’s corpus. I will not sully them now with a historical recitation of allusive significance. But it is with concern for the earth that I cite these lines.  “The earth with a city in her hair / entangled of trees.” My subtext has been a desire to return to the communal bonds that a reading of Olson’s work may inspire.

Prayerfully, Donald Wellman

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The rules are:
First rule, each poem must contain within the convolutions of its sentences, an allusion to the practice of beekeeping. The allusion is to be both contrived and unexpected. The intention is to delight and surprise the reader.

Second rule, a reference to a classic or contemporary work of art, must be hidden among the leaves.

Third rule, social facts obtrude.

These are among the rules used to construct Roman Exercises.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Seventh prophesy [La Revelación en el Espejo]

Mars now sits in the Beehive Cluster.
He wields the mastejelo.
Firedrill, ashen beak.
For love, entrapped among points of light,
presages cataclysm,
that water will not douse.
I ask, “Are images property? wizard-goods
like the bard’s word-hoard?
Are there restraints on access or use?
Or do all signifiers float, free of meaning and sacred properties?
I wrote “the coldest seed.”
I meant to visualize the frozen globes that adhered to a fern.
The image is found in Beowulf.
The passage resembles Ecclesiastes
It is as old as the world, permafrost, primordial ice.
I rose from the sea, my genital beard
Soaked with hoar frost
A girl sat on the porch, reading Process and Reality.
She hoped to please her dad.
How the many became one remains opaque
The model is the honeybee
The motive between a lover’s thighs
Codices compiled in a blue sky house,
the engineer’s cabin at the north pole.
The last Mexican grizzly bear perished in 1960
Its weight crushed the cab of the pickup truck.
Silver-plated animal who prowls among nebulae.
Ursus major protects the honeypot
Foot prints encircle the celestial colure

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Baroque Threads: Studies in Immanence and Expressivity

Introduction to a proposed collection of essays: Seeking to legitimate expressivity in a climate enamored of constructivist and conceptual poetics, I turn to modern and contemporary forms of baroque production in poetry and the visual arts. I examine a variety of intercultural texts, texts that are a mélange of European, African, indigenous and colonial sources. Some are multilingual hybrids. Some have been described as neo-baroque or neo-barroco. Some resist the siren song of global modernism and speak for a people whose identity has been repressed and dismissed as only marginal. Leading figures for my purposes are Nicolás Guillén, José Lezama Lima, and Aimé Césaire. Some of these texts bear traces of surrealism. Other texts that I engage are associated with continental North America: Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Langston Hughes. Each of these North American authors is multilingual. Each chose a life that engaged multiple cultures and venues. Hughes was both a world traveler and resident of Harlem. The polyphonic Pound notoriously chose exile in Italy, after periods of residency in England and France. Williams, whose first language was Spanish, worked as a pediatric doctor serving the mixed-race poor of Paterson. The work of these North American authors is representative of a modernist aesthetic that is both prior to and a source for the neo-barroco. The over-arching thesis of these studies is that an address to immanence will elucidate the expressivity that animates both modern and contemporary poetry. A secondary unifying purpose is that the Latin American and Caribbean poets that I engage require reading by North Americans who wish to keep abreast of post-colonial and contemporary world poetics. An emergent intercultural poetics will necessarily draw on these sources.

My work as a poet and scholar, like that of many of my peers, is intercultural. I pursue a way of reading in which translation is central. Among the titles that I produced as editor of O.ARS was a volume called Translations: Experiments in Reading. I might argue, reductively, that expressivity is immanent to translation. The translator will always and necessarily color the translation with hints of subjectivity. Similarly the reader of conceptual texts will envisage scenarios that yield some degree of subjective satisfaction.[1] The distance between the uncertainties generated by neo-baroque productions and post-language or post-avant work may be less prominent than some readers assume.

My first love is prosody; musical elements and sonic vistas seduce me. Reading aloud or silently, interiorized voicing follows the curve of the line. Many of the observations that populate my essays derive from a close reading of selected texts. In particular, the neo-barroco offers intricate models of multi-layered and sinuous engagement, perception, and performance. Performance, bearing a relation to but not imitative of traditional cadences, generates a poetry, that in its embrace of orality, eschews established measures that have the force of dictating or constraining the shape of the work, imposing meter or rhyme scheme. At the same time it must be recognized that rigorous formulae derived from conceptual principles can also force language to pour itself into predetermined channels or follow randomly generated rules. At this juncture I am thinking of Oulipo and the works of Jackson Mac Low or my translation of the Old English “Seafarer.”[2]

From a certain angle, “modern” and “baroque” are cognate terms. Think of Galileo, the instrument maker whose telescope extended the range of human perception and whose father was famous for his Baroque violins. Galileo was first among those to reduce the world to experimentally verified computations. The information economy began with his calculations. Unlike revivals of tribal arts designed to awaken alienated emotions, as may be found in Picasso’s use of African materials, the neo-barroco offers intricate models of multi-layered and sinuous engagement, perception and performance. Developments in response to modernism or to modernity itself (as opposed to the theory) and coeval with both modernity’s economic benefits and its alienating effects are prior to and enabling of the poetry that I have chosen to write about.

Here I offer a purely preliminary but theoretical construct. My purpose is to redeem the word “immanent” for use in a poetics of inquiry. Imagine that each known language exists on a plane of transcendent immediacy: French, Spanish, English, Mandarin, etc. These virtual constructs have empirical reflections subject to change. Virtual or immanent planes are independent of such empirical reflections. The reflections themselves are clouds with energies and integrities derived from physical processes unique to their plane of actualization, if only the weather. To posit planetary cooling would not take us too far afield. It is to superpose another layer. To illustrate my explication of the distinction between immanent and empirical: readers of any particular written language are able to recognize a pure virtuality, which is wholly independent of normative practice. Grammar and phonology are immanent to speech or speaking, just as prosody is immanent to enunciation. Fernand de Saussure made a similar distinction between langue and parole. Further, in the model that I propose, as the physically embodied planes identified with each language come into contact with one another, sliding, rupture, penetration, and folding occur. These inter-lingual or trans-lingual contact zones are the sites of language transformation and the sites of poetry production. They are also sites of untranslatability. Emily Apter in Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability explores the role of the untranslatable in the history of philosophy. She writes, Alain Badiou’s “elevation of univocity over equivocation, of idea over language, of transparency over opacity, of transmission over hermeneutics, results in the subordination of translation to philosophy.”[3] An encrypted poetics: language comes before translation, and translation enables language. The matter is beyond explanation.

As a consequence, then, of having been captivated by inevitable aporias of untranslatability, I read with attention to multilingual connotations, negotiating expressions that mean differently in different languages, so-called “false friends.” Examples: Spanish, “vigilante” [watcher] means something different from English “vigilante.” Mistranslations have an inspirational value to the poet who stumbles upon false etymologies, constructing realms or reams or Rheims of cathedrals on shaky linguistic ground. Robert Duncan and Ronald Johnson did this.[4] More in keeping with my theme are passages in which multilingual connotations, drawing from a variety of cultural realms, convey something like a translucent sheen that is to some degree animate and felt as a breath within the lines of a poem. In Jay Wright’s The Presentable Art of Reading Absence, I am compelled by its different languages and levels of allusion.[5]
Only here
can the rekindled silence
            one and one,
and over again,
            to reach the limits of my craft,
the ambiguous shape of a fugitive force.
                        You now:
                        aggrey bead
                        Akua ba
                        a Kanaga mask (51).
Asanti vocabulary merges with the Yoruba of Cuban Santería and the cante jondo of Federico Garcia Lorca,
¡O ritmo de semillas secas!
That would stir the salutary
orientation of a crystal rug,
a kente cloth and a dancing kilt. (55)
The first line immediately above is from Lorca’s “Son de negros en Cuba.” Wright has lived in the various lands from which he has borrowed the languages of the poem, Ghana, Germany and Scotland, as well as his native New Mexico. His is an American Baroque. At the limits of his craft he seeks absence. He walks away. The “fugitive force” to which he refers in the first selection above, is a plane of immanence, a plane of melancholy and loss. His objective is to cross from the here and now of meditation and pilgrimage into silence.

If immanence is independent of empirical subjects, then "composition” is “performance” (a processural actualization not adhering to a predetermined paradigm). One is left at the threshold of insubstantial realms howsoever transcendence may be postulated.  In the case of poetry, the "language" employed has both a virtual and an expressivist dimension. To elaborate further: I point to “Immanent Occasions,” a blog where I post thoughts on “immanence” like those that I am sharing now.[6] Suddenly it appears that the truly problematic term in the phrase “immanent occasions” may be “occasions,” not “immanent.” I have so far already been flirting with a concept of immanence derived from the work of Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Let me clarify that before turning to “occasions.”

In a brief essay on immanence Deleuze writes, “The transcendent is not the transcendental. Were it not for consciousness, the transcendental field would be defined as a pure plane of immanence.”[7] The distinction between “transcendental” and “transcendent” needs to be dwelt upon. Transcendental entities be they “souls,” “gods” or mathematical expressions, clutter the mind with multiple forms of imputed consciousness, useful perhaps to a sophist. For empirical purposes, I prefer Nathaniel Mackey’s gnosticism. In Anuncio’s Last Love Song, Mackey refers to “paper” as “wood’s pressed immanence.”[8] A plane of immanence is always virtual, Deleuze writes, and then he continues, “Absolute immanence is in itself; it is not in something, or to something: it does not depend on an object or belong to a subject.” Immanence has a life and its life is found not in moments that happen to collide or build upon one another. It exists between moments and “offers the immensity of an empty space where one sees the event yet to come and already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness” (29). “Paper” in Mackey’s poem is subsequent to virtual rings that circle like halos and are likened to pearls, a gnostic image for the soul. His lines require context:
                                    Self’s lyric digest. Circling round our
                        heads went rings of paper, wood’s pressed
                                    immanence, pearls we cut our teeth on,
                                    string broken, let’s go …
Comments on the unwinding of Mackey’s baroque syntax, notes sustained for many bars on a  singular horn, further implicates immanence as transcendent to the page, an extended modality beyond reading’s suggestions.

“Occasions,” as I employ the term in the title of my blog, exist between “moments” of perception. Here are glimpses of virtualities that are not time-bound. In that usage of “occasions,” I intend to indicate a plane of consistency populated by multiple moments of perception. Another source for this stance is Robert Creeley who writes of “glimmers” on the edge of consciousness. The immanent plane, is decidedly only one of many plateaus, in this case a liminal presence, existing as an “in-between,” like the in-between that exists when a layer of paint forms a virtual machine with a layer of canvas, one of Deleuze’s many machinic assemblages. The relation between the two layers: the painting and the canvas, is not one of dependency or contact, but a perception of a transcendent value that is neither subject to nor dependent on the material presence of either layer. The distributed force produces a singularity.

When my daughter was five she had a long-distance telephone conversation with an eight-year-old Inupiaq girl who lived then in Point Hope Alaska. The subject, Disneyland. Their conversation gave glimpses of a plane of immanence, manifested as giggles and producing a sensation of uncontaminated joy. Apparently the immanent does not depend on pragmatic or empirical considerations. How does one get to Disneyland? Their bliss was such a singularity as understood by Deleuze.[9] A singularity is a virtual construct that may be contrasted with individuation or the coming into self-understanding of an individual. A singularity has transcendent properties, overarching qualities that form a plane of consistency, unlinked or de-linked from historical vectors.

Deleuze concludes his meditation on immanence with this analogy: as is the case with small children, immanence is “pure power and even bliss” (30). It is distinct from individuation, which is a result of empirical experience. It exists only in those moments when the plane of immanence opens upon and is the equivalent of a transcendental field. A virtual field of this order is neither momentary as an epiphany nor eternal. It is and is separate or independent from consciousness. The understanding presented here allows a de-individualized display of affect and that display is neither prior to nor after language.  

Displays of affect often reside in the music of intercultural texts, where the resources of multiple languages and their varied imaginaries are in play, even when most incommensurable. The virtual may lie in the time signature while the empirical is a matter of performance. Other transformations of an intercultural order follow upon contact between different peoples, seeding the inception of new or emergent subjectivities. Nations or nationalities too, after the injustice of slavery, for instance, can be said to produce emergent subjectivities that can be likened to intercultural singularities. Identities such as American, Cuban, or Ojibway have intercultural or translingual characteristics due to the varieties of ways in which different people interact with one another and influence one another. The immanent does not depend on pragmatic or empirical factors. A perception of emergent subjectivity constitutes what is for Deleuze a singularity.[10]

A singularity is a virtual construct that may be contrasted with individuation or the coming into self-understanding of an individual. A singularity has immanent properties, overarching qualities that form a plane of consistency, unlinked or de-linked from historical vectors. A community possessing a mindfulness composed of identifiable characteristics is such a singularity. Mestizo or criollo (creole) might indicate broad characteristics applicable to mixed race communities. Cubanidad is a more narrowly distinctive quality associated with an identifiable population. Such singularities, almost instinctive in their force, can form a cross-weave with other singularities or planes of immanence. There are mestizo populations of an African European origin who are Cubans. And there are also criollo populations that owe their origins to intercultural marriages but whose African elements have been suppressed as a result of adapting to largely European values. These divisions do not necessarily align with skin color. An economic or class-based association is likely to be more determinative than skin color in such circumstances. I refer here to the Caribbean, not continental North America, where racism seems still to be virulent.[11] For North American tourists, the intercultural kaleidoscope of differently mixed peoples in the Caribbean is only a footnote to an island vacation. The work of Nicholás Guillén and that of José Lezama Lima is indicative of very different singularities. Each poet is associated with different constructs of creolité in which the weight of Africanicity varies. In the case of Williams an undefinable creole singularity haunts his writing and is sometimes glimpsed as embodied grotesqueries. In the course of these studies I use “subjectivity” to denominate the empirical or performative aspect that is tangent to or parallel with the Deleuzian concept of singularity. This notion of vectors along which such forces travel is of course, Spinozistic. There’s no god but the good.

The works under discussion in these essays enact or perform subjectivity differently. I understand “subjectivity” as Immanuel Kant and Jean-François Lyotard have, as the site of aesthetic judgments, not a discursive, argumentative or ego-involved intelligence. Deleuze’s concept of folded forms includes an analysis of the direction and duration of flow. In baroque painting light becomes fluid. Watery and mirrored surfaces refract and bend perception. The transformative nature of perception is central to my reading of both modernist and postmodernist work from the Americas. The neo-baroque represents a historical shift valuing music over concept, irony over syllogism.

My emphasis on expressivity is a supplement to the main stream of modernist studies where a history of image-based innovations yields to a constructivist impulse, designed to free the work of the artist’s fingerprints. The porcelain surface of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is emblematic. James Joyce, in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, at least presents the creator as paring his fingernails. Irony is the modernist mode of expression par excellence. Deadpan is valued over affect. That history, shunning expressivist aesthetics, moves from a series of avant-garde innovations (Pound or Picasso) through various forms of constructivism to a language-centered or a post-avant aesthetic that identifies itself as purely conceptual. The centrality of poetic methods that descend from the modernist works of Pound and Williams is in any case self-evident but requires interrogation, especially in relation to expressivist values that exist in critical tension with the pure products of the imagination.[12]  What role has prosody played in this history? My translations of marginally recognized modernists such as Yvan Goll or Blaise Cendrars seeks to fold  their collage-based and surrealist works within the larger mantel of expressivity.

Machines made out of words, reputedly, do not have souls. For Deleuze and Guattari, machinic couplings or assemblages are conduits for lines of force, as if inhabited. In my reading machines allow blurred or even etherealized perceptions of immanent constructs.[13] Modernism as an identifiable style of composition began with an embrace of futuristic machines. For Wyndham Lewis, the soul is an elaborate artifice, “Deadness is the first condition of art,” he wrote in Time and the Western Man.[14] On the hook of a similar enthusiasm, Williams in his introduction to The Wedge, proclaimed that poems are machines made of words. Can such assertions find a balancing point, or are they purely opposed to expressivity? Gertrude Stein wrote that souls do not interest him, meaning Picasso. Dada in its anti-art posture also, often builds abstract machines, Tzara and Picabia, especially. Sex machines. Alternative machines with diagrammatic parts. Machines populate the expressionistic landscape of Metropolis, factory labor producing drones even as for entertainment purposes a robotic Maria emerges from the oyster shell, sporting a lunar tiara. Do not Jean Tinguely’s animate machines have souls?

“Modernization,” using the term to signify an unavoidable trope and history, has an alienating relation to expressivity and a troubling history with respect to labor, the work force often being an intercultural as well as an exploited mass. “Modernism” has been nominally understood in relation to worthy goals for productivity, efficiency and scale, and therefore envied in newly established postcolonial societies. Poets and anthropologists of the Caribbean have also been compelled to address a history of production associated with slavery. In an account that I find corrosive, the cane factory for Fernando Ortiz is a site of purification as the molasses produced by black people in the fields is transformed into a purely white, crystalline sugar, providing a model for race and the emergence of mixed race culture where black and white, in their mutually shared cubanidad worked to the same economic end. More starkly, in keeping with the reality of economic slavery, a father in a surreptitiously stolen balloon flies over a cane field in Haiti and jumps from the basket to his death while his son on the ground below channels Boukman hypnotically. Edwige Dantecat’s story “A Wall of Fire Rising” (cited here from Krick? Krack!) captures the despair of postcolonial economic slavery, citing the bewilderment of contemporary surviving children who mouth incomprehensible mantras promising freedom.

War machines offer differently inflected intercultural perspectives. Dada willingly constructed alternative machines as it engaged in political and antiwar protest. During the 1920s, works by El Lissitsky and Malevich, promoting art for the sake of revolution in a newly industrializing Russia, hung alongside socially disruptive works like those of Kurt Schwitters or Hannah Hoch, Hoch’s collages especially illustrating transformative, multicultural affinities. Following such endearing chaos, as Dada provides, with its performative energies of a deeply expressivist order, it remained to Surrealism to redeem subjective affinities in the realm of poetry, freeing rather than further erasing affect. The influence of surrealism on the art of both Aimé Césaire and José Lezama Lima testifies, in each case very differently, to expressivist urgencies that open new language channels and possibilities of “making it new.” The archaic and the political are two sides of a coin, not only for Pound, who used the phrase in his Cantos but also for modern and contemporary poets in search of coherence, howsoever impossible of attainment that goal may be.

Machines are not themselves necessarily mechanical They are constructs that allow different modes of conjunction or continuity between parts of different orders. My polarities of the expressivist and the constructivist may themselves be only a word machine, generating an oscillating force field, designed to bring forward a new angle of vision.[15]  An expressivist work, engaged as it is with subjectivity, often displays the most energetic aspects of baroque forms, but expressivism doesn’t rule out the practices of direct statement. Langston Hughes, with his fluency in several languages, is perhaps the most intercultural North American poet of his time, having a wide influence in Latin America because of the many translations of his work into Spanish. The work of Jay Wright has a similar intercultural balance and displays more baroque properties than does Hughes’s. His work most nearly incorporates the range of inquiry that I pursue in this collection.

In their individual ways, Williams and Hughes contributed to the development of a “new world poetics,” a sadly unacknowledged brotherhood. Wiiliams’s poetics is profoundly intercultural, in Williams’s case incorporating his Caribbean heritage and speaking to projects like his In the American Grain, a study that draws on Spanish and French, as well as English sources. His incorporation of that material into his poetry and his translations from Spanish speak to compositional practices that are intercultural. Lyrics like “Danse Russe” respond with imaginal exuberance to grotesque reflections in a mirror. There are dwarfs and grotesqueries in Paterson similar to those that populate the Spanish Baroque. Hughes’s autobiography too is multicultural beginning with long residences in Mexico as a young man, followed by travels as a sailor and later as a poet invited to visit Russia and then as reporter for the Baltimore African American in Spain. As a result of visits to Cuba and Spain he took a particular lifelong interest in the works of Guillén and Jacques Roumain. He translated poems and plays by Federico Garcia Lorca, a figure of deep interest to Williams also.

Nonetheless, the proposed volume is not a survey of literary history. It is a collection of essays. Often I incorporate sideways leaps into art history. Henri Matisse, Wilfredo Lam, Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ana Mendieta, for instance. Each uniquely registers the expressivist values that are central to my thought. I am especially responsive to transcultural and expressivist poetics on several fronts. I embrace the poetics of a polyphonic Pound, as well as the tangled webs of syntax found in the poets of the  Latin American neo-barroco: Eduardo Milan, José Kozer, and Roberto Echavarren.

[1] In his essay, “Migratory Meaning,” Ron Silliman employs’ Charles Fillmore’s meta-syntactical concept of envisagement in order to discuss the different degrees o coherence and disjuncture with which a reader responds to “shifts” in the possible meaning of a passage. He quotes Fillmore’s definition of envisagement, “some coherent ‘image’ or understanding of the state of affairs that exist in the set of possible worlds compatible with the language of the text” The New Sentence (NY: Roof, 1987): 112-120.
[2] The Cranberry Island Series (Loveland OH: Dos Madres, 2012): 24-25.
[3] Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (London and Brooklyn: Verso, 2013): 23.

[4] Duncan found poetic resources in relating ‘verse’ to “ploughing,” tracing the etymology of each word back to Greek forms. “It is a fanciful etymology, “verse” shares a root with “ploughing.” To demonstrate that, once words cease to be conventional, customary of taken for granted in their meanings, all things are set into motion, in the figure of ploughing, we see that prose and verse are two necessary movements in the one operation of writing. That here what we call ploughing of the field we also call poetry or our own operations in language. Writing that knows in every phase what it is doing. Forward and back, prose and verse, the shuttle flies in the loom.” The H. D. Book, ed. Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman (Berkeley: U Cal 2011): 449-450. I hear such etymologies at play in these lines from Johnson’s “Ark 30,” “—Elysian elision,” ARK  (Chicago: Flood Editions, 2013):85.

[5] Champagne and London: Dalkey Archive Press, 2008.

[6] Following her recent death, I turned to the work of C. D. Wright, and found these sentences or paragraphs, where it would seem that the post-human in its minute actions of sampling and engineering dna-like substances exposes briefly what Giles Deleuze calls a plane of pure immanence (see below), “there’s a poet in the desert who tweezes the glittering particulars of the species from mounds of dead cells and arranges them along the hairline fractures of our souls / (if there are such immanences” Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon, 2005): 25.

[7] Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, Tr. Anne Boyman (NY: Zone, 2012): 26. A sub-textual meditation on “immanence” will be found in the notes to this introduction.

[8] Durham NC: A Three Count Pour Chapbook, 2013.
[9] The concept of a “singularity” is central to the “Objectivist” strand of North American poetry, for instance, that of George Oppen, who seems to have posited a relationship between “singularity” and “numerousness” that may be similar to the immanent and empirical planes of Deleuze’s thought. Both Lyn Hejinian herself and Peter Nichols in comments on Hejinian’s work argue that the concept of “humanity” is something both confirmed and lost in a momentary glimmer associated with “the shipwreck” of the singular. Hejinian holds that “this is not a poetry of single moments, however—Oppen’s singularities may be impenetrable but they are not transcendent” qtd. Nichols, “Numerousness and its Discontents: George Oppen and Lyn Hejinian” Aerial  (10): 139. Wright’s The Presentable Art of Reading Absence opens and closes with a use of the term “singularity” that is cognate with Deleuze’s use. Deleuze’s mapping of plateaus untangles a confused terminology and puts “immanence” to serviceable work.
[10] The concept of a “singularity” is central to the “Objectivist” strand of North American poetry, for instance, that of George Oppen, who seems to have posited a relationship between “singularity” and “numerousness” that may be similar to the transcendental and empirical planes of Deleuze’s thought. Both Lyn Hejinian and Peter Nichols in comments on Hejinian’s work argue that the concept of “humanity” is something both confirmed and lost in a momentary glimmer associated with “the shipwreck” of the singular. Hejinian holds that “this is not a poetry of single moments, however—Oppen’s singularities may be impenetrable but they are not transcendent” qtd. Nichols, “Numerousness and its Discontents: George Oppen and Lyn Hejinian” Aerial  (10): 139. Wright’s The presentable Art of Reading Absence opens and closes with a use of the term “singularity” that is cognate with Deleuze’s use. Deleuze’s mapping of plateaus untangles a confused terminology and puts “transcendental” to serviceable work.
[11] At the time of this writing, Donald Trump, with his anti-immigrant harangue and Islamophobia, has ripped the mask off the face of color-blind tolerance.
[12] Charles Altieri makes a similar use of the term “expressivist.” His use adumbrates my use of forclusion in these pages. “… an aesthetic approach to values requires an expressivist framework for making our fundamental assumptions. This case depends on Kant for its specific framing of the aesthetic because Kant is still our best exemplar for first specifying the limitations of reason and then transforming that negative case into a psychology that opens new ways of thinking about values,” “Towards an Expressivist Theory of the affects,” (Altieri Manuscripts, 2005): 15, 

[13] Barrett Watten in a discussion of Lyn Hejinian’s  A Border Comedy makes the claim that “The person of the poem is not given but constructed” (Aerial/Edge 10 [2016]): 252. This claim is consonant with the constructivist position Watten generally advocates in such books as Total Syntax. The logic here implies that there is no exterior position for either author or reader outside of the highly discontinuous unfolding of the poem, and yet the notion of such a position is immanent to the construction of the poem. The footnotes to this introduction so far are intended as a commentary on North American “language poetry,” in order to construct a plane adjacent or parallel to the intercultural poetics that I am elaborating, above the line, as it were.

[14] Time and the Western Man (Boston: Beacon: 1957): 279.
[15] Deleuze illustrates my sense of “constructivism,” when he discusses multiplicities in relation to the “field of Immanence.” He argues that “Setting out a plane of immanence, tracing out a field of immanence, is something that all the authors I have worked with have done (even Kant—by denouncing any transcendent application of the syntheses of the imagination …) Abstractions explain nothing, they themselves have to be explained: there are no such things as universals, there’s nothing transcendent, no Unity, subject (or object), Reason: there are only processes, sometimes unifying subjectifying, rationalizing, but just processes all the same. These processes are at work in concrete “multiplicities,” multiplicity is the real element in which things happen. It’s multiplicities that fill the field of immanence, rather as tribes fill the desert without it ceasing to be a desert.” “On Philosophy,” in Negotiations, 1972-1990 tr. Martin Joughin (NY: Columbia, 1990): 145-46. See also p. 3 above where Deleuze’s use of “transcendent” and “transcendental” are discussed.