Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sunday 21 January 2007


Dry with wind.


Kathleen talked to me today about the difference in thinking, thinking in poetry and thinking in numbers. She has a broad face, her thick hair is pulled back loosely. I imagine her with her arms spread wide, turning slowly. "When I am thinking in poetry," Kathleen says, "there is the ability to jump around," which I take to mean associate freely, open doors, backtrack, let intuition play. If followed through, this sort thinking may produce a list, spontaneous and random, it may yield an jagged outline, or a method for decoding language. "When thinking in numbers," Kathleen adds, "you must follow logic, you must remain linear, progress on a plane. If I am working a job that requires logic, it interrupts my thinking in poetry."


Historically, the mode for poetry has been narrative, lyrical. At the turn of the century, the Modernists moved us away from prosody and began the free verse experiments. Symbolists gave way to Imagists. Modernist poetry is now the mode of most contemporary anthologies, as in Best American Poetry, and accounts for what is taught in most university programs. While the Modernist poet is free from meter and rhyme, he nonetheless works within a binary system, posing a central author, an "I" who expresses himself in right and wrong, truth and lie, day and night, beginning and end. He still progresses logically, still rises to a climax, reaches an epiphany and closes neatly. Structure is still imposed by a God-author.

Another experience has since been recognized and credited. It accounts for most of what we call experimental and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, which grows out of an alternate mode of collecting information and informing, an alternative mode of being, non-lyrical and subjective. Rather than segregating experience, the experimental poet embraces plurality and writes open-ended works, often making complex poems which follow multiple threads and offer more than one voice which vie for attention. "The 'personal' is already a plural condition," says Lyn Hejinian in "The Person and Description."

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well. . . (Frank O'Hara)

For sample work of the avant-gardes, browse UBU Web. For poetry, in particular, see How2.


Kathleen rakes leaves in the side yard. "What kind of job can I hold?" She has stifled her poet at the wrong job. She has been blessed to know the right job too, one that feeds her poet. One cannot sit down at one's desk when thoroughly exhausted. The poet needs a respectful environment. One's work must offer a sense of contribution and value. Light mental duty, light physical duty, but mindful work. The perfect job is difficult to attain because it is difficult to imagine, but it might be as simple as gardening or tending horses. James Broughton suggested working as a U.S. postal carrier. A postal carrier, he notes, must move about in the material world, yet his mind is free to wander. There is value in his task while ample energy is stored for pursuing one's passion.

When I think of free association, I think of the poetry of Harryette Mullen. Mullen identifies a desire "to write a poem that encourages collaborative reading across cultural boundaries." She is interested in "the interaction of language and identity." Consider these lines from her poem, Wipe That Simile Off Your Aphasia, "as onion as I can / as cherries as feared." Clear expected connections inherent in the subject and form are lost. The reader is left to make her own connections.


Metaphors take on new meaning when nouns appear in place of adjectives. Mullen plays at language, reclaiming structure, creating new meaning. In Muse & Drudge, cause and effect work out of sequence. "How a border orders disorder / how the children looked / whose mothers worked / in the maquiladora." The ear of the reader needs only to roll with the new speak, the way one rolls with the sounds of new music or a foreign tongue, associating sound with experience. Poetry "based on relations not things" requires an open and close reading. Sometimes it's best to read such poetry aloud. Sometimes it's best to give such poetry percussion.


Choosing what to eat, see, read. Where to live, work, school. The voices, the music to hear. The friends, leaders, truths to believe. Choices define us. "Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar" [Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla, 1917]. "By walking you make the path before you and when you look behind you see the path which after you will not be trod again."

“Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.”

[From Proverbs and Songs by Antonio Machado]

The path you learn by making it takes me to the performance work of Amy-Ellen Trefsger, Urban Beach Scenes, in which the Seattle artist walks through urban settings in a bathing suit with swimmies and sunglasses on, while one assistant lays sand before her, another sweeps it up behind. She moves through town like this, upon the beach of her childhood memory.

Life is action. We must act in order to mean. This is the power of art. It has the ability to demonstrate life, to show us how to live.


I attended a panel discussion a few weeks ago at Francine Seders Gallery. The evening focused on the work of four independent curators working in Seattle: Suzanne Beal, Greg Lundgren, Carrie E. A. Scott and Steven Michael Vroom. Moderator John Boylan raised questions about the approach of independent curators. Does a curator dictate or cultivate art? Greg turned the question of arbiter of affairs around and says he lets the artists ask for the curator. In his experience, a tremendous amount of artists reach out and ask for advice about how to show and price their work. So what is his role? "Art," he says, "is a powerful tool and it's running badly on two cylinders. It needs some really good mechanics. It is my belief that art could supercede this culture of football teams and Hollywood. My purpose is to steer us away from popular culture."

Questions are raised. Is it possible to curate collectively? Do curators effect social change? How does money drive the market? How can curators show art they are passionate about if difficult art doesn't sell? How do you get people into a gallery?
And the artist says, "The curator cannot exist without me. And the curator retorts, "The artist cannot exist without me."

Does the poet believe it too? "The reader cannot exist without me." And the reader? "It is I who validate the poet. Poetry is not poetry until it manifests in me."


I read the poem "A Jar of Honey" by Jacob Polley all day today. A happy poem. Visual. Simple. "You hold it like a lit bulb,/a pound of light." Mark and Clinton would have been proud. They worry when the poems I share are depressing and mournful, ugly and hopeless. Poetry comes out of strife, I tell them, poetry is a protest. They want something uplifting.


My left eye, the wind is making it cry. Besides shivering, besides cold feet, a cold head, cold legs, my left eye is tearing up. And so I blink against the wind and try to focus on the text, but it is the sub-text that comes through. A man just passed, walking two huskies. He asked as he went, "Do you write poetry for dogs?" Off his dogs led him into Sherwood before I could answer. "Ah, it seems I do, it seems I do."

Tom talks to me about the sailing barges, or bateaux, that used to run up and down the Columbia River, flat-bottomed barges with square sails that were used to transport trade goods and furs in the 19th century. My friend, Oliver, plans to take his 18' wooden sailboat from the source of the Columbia in Eastern Washington to Astoria at its mouth. "Depending on the weather and wind, that could take a while," Tom warns.

My left eye is weeping. I suppose the wind is making it cry.


I have collected pine cones from the Borealis Strip and brought them to the tulip trees in my meadow. At the terminus of each fingerling branch, I balance one pinecone. They dangle like chandelier drops, wiggle in the wind. A man pauses beside them. "It's like one of those trees from another culture where they decorate them to make wishes come true." "Yes," I say, "may your wishes come true."

I have hung my tulip trees with pine cones. Each pinecone is a manifesto. Eventually the wind will knock them down in circles around the tree.


The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto (1961) by Yves Klein exhibits dedication. "Due to the fact that I have painted monochromes for fifteen years."

The Futurist Manifesto displays passion. "We have been up all night, my friends and I."

The Communist Manifesto strikes fear. "A spectre is haunting Europe."

The Cheap Art Manifesto accomplices. "For awhile now, many of us have felt growing dissatisfaction with some popular arts events."

The Crap Art Manifesto has yet to be written.

The Manifesto of Visionary Art removes the blindfold. "The Visionary artist uses all means at his disposal - even at great risk to himself - to access different states of consciousness and expose the resulting vision."

The Poetry Manifesto has only one line, "Poetry rejects definition."

Robert Grenier's "I HATE SPEECH" Manifesto is another one liner, and that's it, "I HATE SPEECH."

An Outlaw Poet Manifesto, written by Alan Kaufman, is strong in belief. "To be one from whose ashes someday truth shall arise."

Personism, A Manifesto by Frank O'Hara (1961), explains and concedes. "Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you."

Wendell Berry's Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front incites. "Love the quick profit, the annual raise,/vacation with pay. Want more/of everything ready-made."

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Populist Manifesto No. 1 demands action. "Poets, come out of your closets,/Open your windows, open your doors,/You have been holed-up too long/in your closed worlds.

Time Rebel Poets' Manifesto refuses the bounds of time. "We are INDIVIDUALS that refuse to be captured by time."

The Conservative Poetry Manifesto politicizes. "In light of the separation of America into “Two Nations.”


Blogger TAR ART RAT said...

thanks, helpful post.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Thomas Newton said...

A. K. Allin,

Thank you so much for listing my Conservative Poetry Manifesto.

Thomas Newton
Conservative Poet

1:08 PM  
Blogger Thomas Newton said...

A. K. Allin,

Send me a sample of your Soviet Poems.

I am Interested in Russia.

1:21 PM  

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