Tuesday, January 10, 2012

John Bloomberg-Rissman

Books read 2011

10 Jan 012


Guys, this “Books Read 2011” thing was harder than it looked, because I thought I ought to interpret books read as books completed and it quickly became obvious that I read in dozens  / hundreds  / who knows how many books a year but hardly finish any of them. Which is a comment on uh something, but not on the quality of what I pick up. I think we live in a golden age for writing and reading, really.

Books I read in doesn’t mean books I’ll never finish, just books I haven’t finished yet. (Well, that’s the wish) Some of the most notable books in progress, well some of those that came straight to mind are:

Sean Bonney’s Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud (which didn’t come out til year’s end. The back cover blurb demands quoting in full:

“It is impossible to fully grasp Rimbaud’s work, and especially Une Saison en Enfer, if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Marx’s Capital.[JBR note: which is a funny take on Lenin’s ““It is impossible to fully grasp Marx’s Capital, …if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. (memory quote, so please excuse if not entirely accurate] And this is why no English speaking poet has ever understood Rimbaud. Poetry is stupid, but then again, stupidity is not the absence of intellectual ability but rather the scar of its mutilation. Rimbaud hammered out his poetic programme in 1871, just as the Paris Commune was being blown off the map. He wanted to be there. It’s all he talked about. The “systematic derangement of the senses” is the social senses, ok, and the “I” becomes an “other” as in the transformation of the individual into the collective when it all kicks off. It’s only in the English speaking world you have to point simple shit like that out. But then again, these poems have NOTHING TO DO WITH RIMBAUD. If you think they’re translations you’re an idiot. In the enemy language it is necessary to lie.;

Gramsci’s Prison Letters;

Brian Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual;

Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (another year’s end book);

Teresa Brennan’s Transmission of Affect;

two spectacularly good non-fiction dystopias, Evan Calder Williams’ Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, and Owen Hatherley’s The New Ruins of Great Britain;

Anne Waldman’s IOVIS (which I plan to savor for a long time);

and Franklin Rosemont’s bio of Joe Hill (the perfect Occupy book – I mean, check out how the IWW’s Mixed Locals worked).

But the main book-in-progress I want to mention is Rob Kovitz’s Ice Fishing in Gimli, which is an absolutely giganto-stupendous mash-up novel.To quote the http://www.treyf.com/Fishing/ifblurb.html website blurb,

Ten years in the making, Ice Fishing in Gimli is an 8-volume image/text montage bookwork by Winnipeg artist/writer Rob Kovitz. Set in and around a strange small town and a large frozen lake in the uncharted center of Canada, it’s an epic citation saga of desire, ambition, weather and landscape; of drownings, freezings, murder and cannibalism; of alien architectures, bizarre conveyances, inscrutable soothsayers and esoteric ice-fishing techniques; of the search for enlightenment, the poignancy of fish-flies and the indeterminacy of maps; of prairie writer and double-agent Frederick Philip Grove, Gimli-born Arctic explorer VilhjalmurStephanson, and numerous other quixotic characters both real and imagined; of boredom, failure, madness, nothingness, unrequited love, best-laid plans, the Wandering Jew, the House of Squid and mysterious things that may or may not be hidden beneath flat, frozen surfaces, to name a few things ...

8 volumes, about 4,500 pages.Dance massive, to get all 70s Jamaican. Wonderful stuff. And great production values, tho Rob did tell me that what he did with photographs pissed some people off …

I should note that Frederick Philip Grove was born Felix Paul Greve, and that early in life, before he reinvented himself as a Canadian writer, eloped with a woman named Else, who later became Baroness Else von Freytag-Loringhoven.


My book-reading habits are really worse that it might seem from the above. I mean, I do tons of reading on the web. Hundreds if not thousands of poems here and there (as if I could name all the names … but Heather Christle was new to me this year, and I like her work); blogs, lots of blogs (including your BOTH BOTH, John).Some of my important blogs in 011: Bhanu Kapil’s, Nina Power’s, Jodi Dean’s, Aaron Bady’szunguzungu, Montevidayo, Evan Calder Williams’, wood s lot, Levi Bryant’s, Tim Morton’s, Graham Harman’s, Richard Seymour’s,Geoff Manaugh’s, HTMLGIANT, Alexander Trevi’s, Kate Zambreno’s, John Latta’s, Eileen Tabios’, Prodigies & Monsters, etcetcetc … tumblrs, poetry zines …  Al Jazeera  Jacket2  Mute Magazinen+1 … I think my Google Reader, which organizes my writing practice, also organizes my reading. And I do tend to take tangents, and click links.

So I don’t know if “the book is dead” for me. I sure buy a lot of them … [Someday we might want to talk about “the future of the book” and “the future of the journal” – as a librarian, I’ve thought a lot about this stuff] Or just … well this was also a year spent on the run, so to speak. My daughter spent the first 2 months in the hospital, trying to hold off the premature birth of her triplet boys. The, in March, the boys arrived. So I was extraordinarily busy and in love, which also made reading cover to cover kinda … silly. I mean, I had to just read what held a charge. Then I had some heart arrhythmias and vertigo issues, not life threatening, but there’s nothing like a health crisis to kill off a book (as in: I was reading that in some other lifetime while I can't reach back to) and make me begin somewhere new again. That happened a lot …


I did read all of »SOUS LES PAVÉS« and Eccolinguistics. Good good stuff. But, for no particular reason, I don’t want to talk about them here. Anyhow, here are 5 books I actually finished (well, 6 …)

Karl Marx, Capital, v.1. I’d never read it all the way through before. Given the events of the big world (the obvious slow crumble of the western world, the so-called Arab Spring, Occupy, etc, it seemed like the year for it. I have no special training in “political economy”, but I still got it, so I understand now why it’s been called the workingman’s bible (pardon the gendered language). A funny book, too. And it introduced me to some unsung heroes: the doctors and others sent out by Parliament to investigate and report on the conditions of the working class. These people, or so many of them, at least, were so unbought it’s hard to imagine them in our time. Marx included many lengthy quotes from them, and they some absolutely horrendous conditions. This was kinda my year’s anchor book.

Brandon Brown, The Persians By Aeschylus by Brandon Brown and his translation of Catullus.Two wonderful books. The latter may have been the most satisfying read of the year. I don’t have anything to say about it, really, except you go, Brandon, I can’t wait to read what’s next. I reviewed the former for Eileen Tabios’ http://galatearesurrection17.blogspot.com/2011/12/two-publications-by-brandon-brown.htmlGalatea Resurrects, so I’ll quote the review’s first few paragraphs:

Aeschylus’s The Persians opens with this scene: “Before the Council-Hall of the Persian Kings at Susa. The tomb of Darius the Great is visible. The time is 480 B.C., shortly after the battle of Salamis. The play opens with the CHORUS OF PERSIAN ELDERS singing its first choral lyric.” (Robert Potter version, as seen at The Internet Classics.

I’ve examined four print translations, all of which, if they say anything, say more or less the same thing. Except for Brandon Brown’s version, which eschews theatrical illusion in order to begin with: “1-184 / SUNDRY PROLOGUES EXPLAINING / AMONG OTHER THINGS / THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR / BETWEEN THE GREEKS AND / THE PERSIANS; ITS CONDUCT, / STATUS, AND PROLEGOMENIC PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE”.

One is struck immediately by Brown’s approach. It’s reminiscent of Brecht’s Epic Theatre, in that Brecht always wanted the audience to be aware that it was watching a play.

The chorus speaks. I’ll use Robert Auletta’s translation, published during the first Gulf War by Sun & Moon, because it too has ambitions above and beyond moving a text from one language/culture to another (“In this modern version … Robert Auletta shifts the action of the play from Persia to a modern-day Iraq, and like Aeschylus, asks Americans to question and challenge their views of our recently defeated enemies.”)

We are the chosen ones,
the Persian Council
left here to guard
the sacred documents of our country,
while all our forces
have gone to war in Greece.
It is a strange time,
this early morning
of both hope and fear,
with rumors running wild,
and the heart pounding
with terror and joy. …

This is very similar to the other versions I’ve examined. Brown’s chorus does a radically different thing:

t’s been a few years since we went
to fight with Persians. I meant to
fight with Greeks. No, I meant to say
t’s been a few years since we went
to fight with Greeks, since we’re Persians.
If this is confusing, it’s be-
cause I’m saying this to you in
Greek. In fact, we’re Greeks, because we’re

speaking Greek. But isn’t it as
if we were Persians, making this
speech about fighting with Greeks? All
the more rich I’d venture since we’re
making the speech in Greek. That’s what
Persians do after all in The
Persians. Speak in Greek ‘bout fighting
with Greeks, or rather against them.

Beside the Epic Theatre proscenium-breaking, the most important thing to note, I think, is that these Persians are aware of and enacting their own defeat and enslavement from the very first lines. Everyone in Aeschylus’ audience knew the Persian defeat to be the case. Yet, as is evident from the lines from Auletta’s version above, the audience was still allowed the frisson of pretending that neither they nor the Persians knew that. However much Aeschylus “humanized the enemy” (Peter Green, intro to Auletta’s version), he still, and other translations still, begin the play as if the Persians are still free. Brown does not allow his readers, or audience, or his Persians, even one moment of that luxury. 

Alice Notley,  Culture of One.I don’t know how she does it. She goes places I didn’t even know existed. It’s as if she’s a priestess or something. I think her books are pure terrifying magic. This one’s a novel, sort of. It takes place back in her home territory, a small town in the California desert. I could summarize it, but the story alone is not the truly important thing. It’s how she does it. The twists and turns of her lines, and her dictions, and her, well, this can be read at any scale, from the syllable to the whole narrative, from the narrative to the sensibility behind it, and … well, this isn’t even her best book and it’s still so far up there I bleed when I read it.

Sean Bonney, THE COMMONS. He’s one angry man. And he should be required reading for all who think political passion is bad for poetry. I also reviewed this for http://galatearesurrection17.blogspot.com/2011/12/commons-by-sean-bonney.htmlEileen, so I’ll roll the wheel I already invented (again, only the first bit).

“The work was originally subtitled “A Narrative / Diagram of the Class Struggle”, wherein voices from contemporary uprisings blend into the Paris Commune, into October 1917, into the execution of Charles 1, and on into superstitions, fantasies of crazed fairies and supernatural bandits //// all clambering up from their hidden places in history, getting ready to storm the Cities of the Rich //// to the bourgeois eye they may look like zombies, to us they are sparrows, cuckoos, pirates & sirens //// the cracked melodies of ancient folk songs, cracking the windows of Piccadilly //// or, as a contemporary Greek proverb has it, “smashing up the present because they come from the future”.”

“Hi, my name is John, I am 14 years old and hate the Tories, and this book exploded my political consciousness, now a brick through a window is never enough, I want to reawaken the dead.”

Both quotes are from the back cover of the book. My name is John, too, and I’ll be 61 by the time this is published, and I too hate what little John hates, and I too know that brick through a window feeling, and I too know it’s never enough, and I too want to reawaken the dead, at least in Walter Benjamin’s weak messianic sense. Whatever you do, don’t laugh. Or, go ahead, but first think twice.


Even Wikipedia gets it: “The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment—forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land—that are shared, used and enjoyed by all.

Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The commons can also include public goods such as public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function (such as electricity or water delivery systems). There also exists the ‘life commons’, e.g. the human genome.

Peter Barnes describes commons as a set of assets that have two characteristics: they’re all gifts, and they’re all shared. A shared gift is one we receive as members of [the human] community, as opposed to individually. Examples of such gifts include air, water, ecosystems, languages, music, holidays, money, law, mathematics, parks and the Internet.

[JBR: I’d add food and shelter to the list …]

There are a number of important aspects that can be used to describe true commons. The first is that the commons cannot be commodified—and if they are—they cease to be commons. The second aspect is that unlike private property, the commons is inclusive rather than exclusive — its nature is to share ownership as widely, rather than as narrowly, as possible. The third aspect is that the assets in commons are meant to be preserved regardless of their return of capital. Just as we receive them as shared gifts, so we have a duty to pass them on to future generations in at least the same condition as we received them. If we can add to their value, so much the better, but at a minimum we must not degrade them, and we certainly have no right to destroy them.”


But the powers-that-be just say: Fuck that shit. So I can’t help but read THE COMMONS in light of the Occupy movement. Which, in a way, has a very simple message: Let’s Just Take It All Back.


The poem begins with the first bit of an old song, “The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies.” It’s got an interesting recent history, which kind of sums the whole thing in a nutshell. According to The Annotated Bob Dylan, “This is a line from a very old folk song that has many variations. It probably originated in the British Isles.” It was appropriated by Dylan for reuse in his “High Water (for Charlie Patton)” (Love and Theft, 2001), which is fine; old lines from old songs are there for re-use. But Dylan’s re-use of old material is controversial. He has a long-term habit of releasing versions of old songs and copping all the credit. Of enclosing the commons. Thus, when I read the first few lines of Bonney’s poem,

the cuckoo is a pretty bird,
she warbles as she flies
The cuckoo is a
- BANG -
he was a big freak:

I can’t help but hear the bang as—well, obviously as a gunshot that kills the poor old bird—and also as a bang that kills the commons (I can’t claim that anyone but me would hear “he was a big freak” as a reference to Dylan, and to his famous line, now redirected as in a mirror, “How does it feel to be such a freak?” … but I’ve always resented his taking credit for stuff he didn’t write, just as I resent Goldman-Sachs for taking money they didn’t earn).

(Bonney credits Clarence Ashley’s version, by the way).

Noah Eli Gordon, The Source. This is an interesting project (peace, Dorothea Lasky; sometimes poetry can be a project!). He did manage to make something out of a million little bits. This books stands out for me because I was asked by the good people at futurepoems to http://futurepoem.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/john-bloomberg-rissman-responds-to-page-26-of-the-source/ respond to page 26 of it (I was asked because I’m a librarian, and a number of librarian/poets were asked …). So I’m going to share some of my response. But first the method, because Noah’s method used to create his book demanded a suitable response:

A modified version of a process first used by JBR in the part of the 1000 Views of ‘Girl Singing’ Project titled “... high theory and daily life/speech crossed and crashed into each other. ...’ View of “Girl Singing”, and therefore named the HTADL/SCACIEO Transformation. Since it’s modified here for The Source it’s known as HTADL/SCACIEO/TS Transformation.]

Modification: For this project I utilized a two-option process with a one strong and one weak formal constraint, and I allowed myself one (bracketed) interpolation, which begins with the last noun in stanza 2.

Option 1: I took the nouns in order and matched each with a proper name beginning with the same letter as the noun (e.g. Source/Frank Stanford) found in the index to Lynn Keller, Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women’s Exploratory Poetry, or CarenIrr, Pink Pirates: Contemporary American Women Writers and Copyright (Stanza 1); Juliana Spahr, Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity (Stanza 2); Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 (Stanza 3); googled the resultant noun-and-name sets, took (and occasionally mangled) what I wanted.

Option 2: I took the nouns in order and, using my own home library, matched each with the proper name of a author whose name begins with the same letter as the noun (e.g. Source/Frank Stanford), opened one of that author’s books, and sampled and (occasionally) mangled. I used p.26 when I could.

Strong formal constraint: mostly all sentences, each with a first-person singular pronoun or possessive adjective in it.

Weak formal constraint: 5 words/line.

So. Here’s the first and last section of what came of the above:


I have a revolver in
my possession. I step from
the bus into a sequencing
tool that is moist and
carries the scent of quince.
I carry a bag with
severed heads. I keep the
eel alive until ready to
skin. In my view, this
tradition of documentary and the
idea of a native culture
waiting-to-be revealed stand
as companion myths. If I
could prevent entropy from rusting
the gears of the neo-
machinery, I could contact my
familiars of another wavelength. I’m
going to get a glass
of whiskey now; would you
care for a glass of
absinthe? In my mind’s
eye it is more like
one of those strobe photographs
in which each increment of
the jumper’s act registers on
the single image. I cut
off my bird to spite
my face. I’m sorry, but
I was born with a
towel on my head, which
“excited the cherries”. For this
reason, I have found it
necessary to rewrite Lautréamont’s famous
trope in the following way:
“Butter on the knife. Water
table. Itch of the coccyx.
Deer fetus wine of China.”


I feel bound to state
the obvious warning: Cthulhu is
not to be approached lightly …
Hyperstition strikes me as a
most intriguing coinage … We thought
we were making it up,
but all the time the
Nma were telling us what
to write. He was pulling
me along on an immaculate
silver table, larger than a
serving tray, I thought, sheet
over me then, white linen,
and their faces soothing, shapes
of words and eyes I
couldn’t identify. I assume that
we grant that Art, Love,
Politics, and Science are affections.
Whether there are more affections,
etc. I am not debating.
Rather, I wish to understand
how they topologically relate to
the body α as it
is paired in α1 x
α2 x α3 x α4.
What I’m trying to text
is unreduced to its molecules,
dark matter acronymically textured into
temperate understanding; money talks, dear,
and the silence is deafening –
or heartening – or – but, at
some point, wouldn’t it serve
us to consider other foundational
questions, like why “unicorn hardcore
softporn abortion e-cards” is
a rather succinct and accurate
description of contemporary consciousness in
the developed world in the
early 21st century, an immersive
media environment in which we
can “stay warm on a
cold night” of the “Ka
kaaaawwwwwwwKakaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” 1 Star
2 Stars 3 Stars 4
Stars 5 Stars … (5.00 out
of 5); … patty melts and
corn dogs and shrimp wiggle …
bloody earlobes and other appendages
litter the aisle ….. the baby’s
still breathing .. maybe .. standing in
for the epidemic … in the
era of the global polka-
dotted lobster flu .. ....like the
aging white man of the
popular saying … Still, he worried
about …the fact that the
goat had …a beard, and
he secretly consulted …an oracle
in a neighboring country, …who
assured him that only a
…bearded spirit could seriously threaten
his rule … And if you’re not well,
let’s face it … “Kakaaaawwwwwww
Kakaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” … up close you
look like the anemone’s tentacles …

I can provide all the source notes if anybody wants them … 

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