To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mark Weiss: A Suite of Dances III: Travelers Tales

Cows in the mire above slate water.

White, dappled
to the brown drop-off, sea,
clouds beyond,
and a burnish of sunlight
barely makes it.
And here’s a bay cuts in below stubble
on a ground of snow.
A town surrounding the walls of a roofless church.
Sun inscribes black lines in last year’s traces.

Inland the forestry has carpeted hills. Beyond,
rounded masses climb towards the Cairngorms.

Now the snow a barest flocking.
Brown, green, tawny, greener,
sodden with melt.
So many pearls in the furrows.

Needs of the present
intrusive as always.
Redhead, red with cold
in this heated carriage.

What he left us was the man he was.

Fried friable

Snow-dusted, reddened by sunset.

The wondrous machine begins to slip.

The goose that laid the ham and eggs.

Saved from the diadem by a gem-like flame, he stutters,
and the priest
will speak for him. Moshe
mashiach, mark
it well. So   given me
to save the people,
reduced to catalogue and warning,
as a world is raveled and rewoven.

Glipspring of the street-bound ballerina                    
alert as a doe at wood’s edge.

She had stood by the mirror half-asleep
and painted herself
into pure surprise.
There are always predators.

A curve leads to another.
Perpetuum mobile.

Suddenly a catalogue of noses.
The vocabulary of pleasure is fairly small.

The sense that system depends.
System as a decision of what to ignore, hence
easily ousted, as if,
as she said,
a deck of cards. “Just say it,
and it’s gone.”

Squeeze it hard enough
it could be anything.


Identified with fire,
as his ancestors came from the house of bread.
born in the manger. “One in the oven,”
they must have snickered,
another girl gone bad, slipped
it to her when she wasn’t watching.

Grit grip garroted
grit grop besotted
grit grape and rotted
knotted pitted throttled bottled
into the jar the oil the
essence. Or an arrow, from the burning bush,
smoke speaking, the smote rock leaking.

Wonders of mind subjected to artifice.

Her face in repose betrayed the sadness
she was unaware of, or just
her face in repose. Ask
her, if she could tell you.

Intimations of a complex process.
Cowboy boots in a no-horse town.
The music of a gorgon walking through flies.

Because each stone must have its master.
These weighty things in hand
as intimate proof of gravity,
a solace in the general downfall. “This,” it says,
“is your future. Find a way.”

The constant dance of hands.

And the wind calls me:

The child at rest
sings “nipple nipple”
over and over.

“Que caliente,”
he sings,
despite the cold.

Now blond on the hillside.
Last year she planted daffodils.

We never tire of the brain’s unraveling,
the god that fashioned
so quick to be gone.

Grow salt.

Amused by the dialect of the downtrodden.
“Aint they got rhythm.”

What-everyone-knows now lost
for want of telling.

One attempts to assemble the random scatter on the floor and fails
for lack of data, assuming an inherent order to be ex
cavated, the holes
dug, pulled out the sense of.

Let’s look to the easy comforts.


Let there be balm in Gilead. “Ouch!
Ouch!” Girls losing it in the cactus patch.


Front Street fronts and could run
forever. Forever
ends at a mountain or water where Front Street
ends. In the order of things.

Bank Street is a filthy alley,
its grime the sign of fires
when heat meant coal. Barrels
spill slops behind the restaurants.
Bank Street is behind
Front Street, and almost forgotten.
East to west the sky defines it.

Front Street is a row of buildings facing the tracks and cattle yards,
a great horizon to the south and the piss
of panicked cattle--something’s changed,
they moan,
and not for the better.

Here is there is everywhere.

Trained to chirp like birds.

“The milk of chickens will do you in.”

Flirting with a particular chaos.

Imagine a life or the planet’s life as the skin on a pan of milk.
We forget in the good times the anxiety of animals.
It’s the time-scale that’s changed,
and the skill at distancing.

A history of moving from here to there as if crossing a final river.

For a thousand years there will be none.
The time too limited to find new things to say.

This time the end of one’s time
may be the flood.
Glitter of sand as the wave withdraws,
half-circles, and salt become foam quivers,
sheds fingers in the breeze.

So, to survive the revelation of artifice.

[note. Regarding Mark Weiss’s remarkable skills & insights, Ron Silliman wrote of an earlier volume: “This is a barefoot poetry, almost in the very oldest Asian sense of that phrase, a poetry of voice & body that recognizes that even body-language has accents, which surely it does. The eye is keen, the humor self-deprecating. Mark Weiss has reached that point on life’s mesa where forgiveness (to oneself as well as others) may well be the most important of gestures. A book to make you glad to be in the world.” And Weiss himself of the present venture:"I’ve joked before that my work isn’t so much composition by field as composition of field. A Suite of Dances might be composition by notebook. It’s an extension of the way I’ve worked for the past 25 years. Probably I’ve been reacting to an anxiety felt by translators, historians, and archaeologists in the absence of context. This is close to context in the absence of event. Though I hope that there’s something like an architecture, perhaps musical, holding it together. The title suggests, for me, at least, the baroque, when suites of dances were a major form, and my understanding of baroque art in all media as an attempt to experience the heterogeniety of event not as chaos but as something like a grand, encompassing chord. The selection above is part 3 of 28 named parts, filling 200 pages."]

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Karl Young: Toward an Ideal Anthology, Part One

reprinted here, in memoriam

[Karl Young’s relation to independent & alternative publishing began in 1966 with his first publications produced on mimeo machines and with letter presses. In 1970 he presented new & experimental work under the imprint of Membrane Press, working both as a professional printer & the creator of a range of innovative, nearly sculptural books of his own.  His editioned books were produced on an offset press as part of a series of cottage industries he worked with until the late 1980s in Milwaukee. In 1990, without access to a press of his own, he continued doing a few titles by other means, & made his first forays onto the internet using FTP & other now arcane & limited methods available at the time. When web publication became affordable in 1994, he started using it. His web anthology Light & Dust is the online successor to Membrane and as such has brought a still wider & more international range of work into general circulation.  What follows here is the first part of a discussion by Young of anthologies in general & web anthologies in particular done in 2002, half way between the time he began the online anthology & the present.  The entire piece can be accessed at, by a pathway that can lead the reader to other useful & often hard to obtain works, generously & conscientiously delivered.  The second part of this insightful work will appear subsequently on Poems and Poetics. (J.R.)]  

Etymologically, the word "anthology" means a bundle of flowers. During the late medieval period, monks made collections of favorite texts for their own use or for members of their orders. Private collections offer satisfactions, as you can see among people who collect stamps or coins or, well, you name it and you can find somebody who collects whatever you've named. Anthropologists speak of "hunter-gatherer" societies, and it's easy enough to see hunting and gathering as among the most basic human characteristics and impulses. When keeping private collections does no harm, it's not something to dismiss or look down upon. However, most people who make personal collections want to share them. Last Christmas I received a CD and an audio tape of seasonal music from friends who initially put them together for their own use, then made additional copies as gifts. That I received two such collections from people who didn't know each other, suggests how many people turn such collections into presents. No matter how dogmatic anthologies can get, the sense of gift is usually there somewhere.

The sense of a gift seems an admirable editorial concept, and one that should not get lost no matter how anthologies change through time. Gifts often include hopes. Of course, gifts can act simply as bribes or as a means of coercing, conning, or appeasing people. Yet the hopes in gifts can even grow considerably from this simple form of transaction. A gift given in courtship, for instance, may include hopes for relatively quick and selfish gratification, but that doesn't necessarily exclude hopes for cooperation and shared happiness over extended periods of time.

Some of the most important anthologies published in recent centuries have acted as news vehicles. This is not out of keeping with the courtship theme: if you're in love, you want to tell the world. Aside from amorous enthusiasm, real news is hard to keep to yourself. If you've found something important, you'll probably want to tell people about it. Even as I write the beginning of this essay, there are a number of people I feel impatient to show it to.
News tends to stimulate a prescriptive impulse. Anthologies based in news may begin with the implication that this is something you gotta see to believe, but it will also tend to bring with it the implication that this is what people should read. Likewise, controversial news acts as a stimulant for debate and news of an atrocity asks people to seek a remedy. Remedial anthologies can act as advocates for groups of people or types of work that have previously been disenfranchised or excluded. Just as easily, they can move in such a way as to negate what some would see as news. Easily identifiable examples of these directions can be found in collections of work by minorities and of work meant to reestablish traditional forms and values.

The interrelation of inclusion and exclusion forms one of the basic dynamics of the process of anthology formation. In a simple collection of flowers, gatherers select the plants that they think look or smell best or carry the right kind of symbolism. The gatherers may find plants that might or might not be appropriate, and spend considerable time deciding on which to keep and which to exclude. This tension can become a dynamic force in the reading of anthologies as well as in their assembly. Readers who seek what may have been left out become ideal readers and extenders of the news in anthologies. As anthologies and the environment in which they function become more complex, exclusion becomes more important and can take on a negative role. This can grow from the problems any editor finds in work that may or may not fit the anthology's purposes. At times, some anthologists work primarily from the need to exclude what they dislike rather than what they wish to keep. Anthologies can thus become tools for something like excommunication just as easily as they can act as vehicles for enfranchisement. 

Combining most of these elements, polemical anthologies can act as much as stimulants for new work as surveys of what has been done. Manifestos became something of an art form in themselves in the 20th Century. Perhaps the most enduring manifestos may not be those limited to a single rhetorical voice, but those which appeared as choruses in the form of anthologies. 

No matter how complex the impulse to anthologize becomes, it almost invariably includes these elements, and to the editors, they become a means of trying to make the environment in which they operate better than it was before.
I saw my initial efforts at electronic publishing in a limited and tentative context. The first works I put on-line were Anarchist classics and a few poems, in the days when ftp, gopher, and bbs were the main means of electronic distribution. When the World Wide Web opened up to general use, it became clear to me that this would be as good an environment as I could find for creating an anthology of the poetry of the later decades of the 20th Century. Following nearly all the lines of collection mentioned above, I set about trying to represent as close to all the genres and tendencies of poetry produced during the era in what gets called "experimental" or "Avant Garde" modes. 

Several factors came from characteristics of the web itself. First, its nature made it open-ended in ways that print anthologies are not. The ink never dries on the web. The most immediately gratifying aspect of this comes to a print publisher from the fact that it allows you to correct typos. I'm not sure how much people not involved in print publishing understand how much misery these little fleas or heartaches or pestilences can inflict on a printer-publisher, or how they add up over the years. I didn't know it when I started on the web, but in the electronic environment typos became less of a problem: readers take them more or less for granted, and since they can always be corrected they weigh less heavily on the publisher's psyche. Thus the web provides liberation from an unwanted kind of permanence in two ways at once.

Lack of fixity fans out from there. Authors can revise and add to work that they publish on-line. Unlike a print anthology, the editor doesn't have to allot a certain amount of space to each contributor or each work. In some instances, charges for disk space can become expensive, but at least in its potential, web space is virtually unlimited. Going by author, if the work of X seems to require several hundred pages to make its point, the editor can include that much. You don't have to assign each contributor a limited number of pages, or use volume as a qualitative signifier in which the more prestigious authors get more than those assigned a lower status. Volume as an indicator of status disappears along with the worries about how to apportion limited space. 

On the web, which acts as a world wide distribution system in a literal sense, there's no reason why you can't present work in multiple languages, and you can add translations as you go along, not requiring them to be on-hand by a specific deadline. If the presence of work on the Web finds translators among readers, as it has done a number of times at Light and Dust, so much the better. Like most editors, I know more about what's going on in my own part of the world than anywhere else. But the global environment of the Web allows considerable outreach beyond that. The tendency toward expanded areas of possibility became apparent in anthologies before the Web appeared, but the Web allows considerably more room for exchange. Contributions from France and Hungary, Paraguay and Eritrya don't simply make up addenda or footnotes to my anthology, but take positions as important as anything else at the site. My offering hardly represents everything that's going on in the world, but it moves more fully toward an international scope than any print anthology I know.

Criticism and commentary play an essential role in the poetry of the era: given the diversity of work and the originality of much of what interests me, it seems unlikely that all new work can be accessible to a wide range of readers without commentary. Manifestos and theoretical papers have assumed crucial positions in the 20th Century, some acting as impetus for the creation of new work as well as commentary on it. During recent years, writing of this sort has found its way more prominently into print anthologies. At Light and Dust, I favored criticism and commentary done by practicing artists, though I didn't disqualify the work of scholars and critics who do not produce works of art. This, too, is something that doesn't need to be complete by a given deadline; it's something I could add as I went along. And, again, the space for it is potentially unlimited, not something that requires a trade-off between poetry and commentary.

Perhaps the most important internal feature of a web anthology's lack of fixity is that no one is permanently and categorically excluded. This is not the case with print anthologies. Once the ink dries, whomever is excluded is cast permanently out of that particular garden. The sense of exclusion in print anthologies can create problems ranging from a poet's sense of lost opportunity to ferocious squabbling, back biting and other forms of infighting, the flattering of editors, and the generation of deep-seated and long lasting grudges. An anthology's finality can also generate lack of credibility on the part of readers. In the web environment, much of this simply disappears. If Dick and Jane aren't part of the anthology today, they may be tomorrow; the need for competition eases, and with a bit of luck, this may even lead to a greater sense of cooperation rather than one-up- manship. 

This expands further in the context of the Web as a whole. Dick and Jane may very well be people who'd have to undergo something like a Damascus Road conversion to appear at my site, and probably would have to do so at about the time hell freezes over, but my site isn't the only one on the web. If you don't find them at my site, you can probably find them somewhere else using the same means you used to access Light and Dust. If links don't take you where you want to go, search engines, for all their weaknesses, may help. If Dick and Jane can't find anyone to publish them on-line, nothing's stopping them from setting up a Web site of their own. If they've been so far unrecognized, an environment like that of the Web will certainly get them at least some attention, and they may be able to build on that. However dogmatic any site may become, if it's on the web it still potentially connects to all other sites. You don't have to buy more books or check out other libraries: if you can get to Light and Dust, you can get to any other public site on the Web. 

My approach to poetry is eclectic, anti-hieratic, pluralistic, and decentralized. Despite the use of the Web by totalitarian factions in attempts to establish dominance, the Web has a tendency to resist this kind of treatment. It may not always succeed, but it still provides the means for subversion of any group claiming hegemony or seeking to form an instant or pre-stacked canon. My site goes against the hegemonic grain to the extent that some people have given it such nick names as "the Resistance" and "Sweden, 1941." That's congenial to me and my way of looking at things, but it doesn't come from a desire on my part to overthrow orthodoxies in order to establish a new one in their place. I see domineering cults as toxic to the general scene, and equally harmful to individuals within the various citadels themselves. 

The rejection of clique putsches doesn't equal a dismissal of all those inside the various armed fortresses, and members of many of these cabals appear at Light and Dust. When presented without the imperial trappings, armies of Mooneyesque cheerleaders and draconian enforcers, the work of these people can take on a greater life on its own terms.
With this anti-dogmatic precondition in mind, I have been able to put forward work that has been ignored, marginalized, or abused. Perhaps the most dramatic examples come from projects to put works on-line that have been censored or otherwise kept out of print by force. But other work that has suffered benign neglect seems just as important. There may be a paradox or a bit of serendipity in this. I seem to be temperamentally oriented toward certain types of rebellion, confrontation, and, as some would see it, plain crankiness or contrariety.

 In a different milieu, this might leave me in the position of backing those who had failed by any standards, including my own. In the dispensation of the last century, however, much of the best work I know has been bashed or ignored. This makes it easy to simultaneously publish some of the best work around and some of the most abused or neglected. As important as this advocacy may be for me, it's by no means my only motivation nor does it reflect the whole show. I have been able to put up work by prominent and successful poets along with those who have been marginalized.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Anne Tardos “Beginningless,” a new poem from The Camel’s Pedestal

Life is a raw event

I give you roses    You give me roses

As I speak and as you listen
I feel the traction of my words in the terrain of your mind
We speak of the great emptiness which is ultimately empty of itself
(It is not reality either)
We discuss the limits of thought The paradox of expressibility

The familiar

the habitual

we appropriate
Our mental attitudes then crystallize into instincts Detached observation of brilliant force fields
Luminous displacements

The ride of a lifetime
   The buzz of electricity
      The comfort of oblivion
         Staring at the ocean
            Inhaling heady sea vapors
                The fullness of time

An increasing sense of urgency
Inexplicable in light of a conscious attempt at slowing down
As if deceleration itself suggested friction

Who am I and what do I mean by who am I?

Hume Human

Creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of
or diminishing
the materials afforded us by the senses and experience
The muddy particulars of experience continually give us new material to digest assimilate reject or rearrange in different degrees

Like seaweed, we undulate

We discuss zero, a finite moment fixed within our infinity

We say our infinity as we would say our solar system or our galaxy
We sense that each instant covers the entire world
We know that life doesn’t happen to us We happen to it

And what we make of all this stuff is up to us
Our inventions tend to be arbitrary
Much is about restraint and mindfulness courtesy

Not to give innot to succumb Not to wallow not to slouch Not to slip not to fall

I have nothing better to do than to be here now.
Delicate gene pool
  Glitter kindness
   Unexpected chemistry Thought exists
    Rigid necessity

I surge forward, feeling an elastic exhilaration.
This is the current situation as it stands:
Everyone I’ve ever been I am now
All kinds of inspirations and illuminations,
Points of clarity and rays of grace

I don’t know a better point to start from.

note.  Anne Tardos’s The Camel’s Pedestal: Poems 2009-2017 was published earlier this year by BlazeVOX Books.  Of these poems & of what Gary Snyder has called: the “real work of modern man: to uncover the inner structure & actual boundaries of the mind,” John Olson writes: “ There is a splendid lucidity to Tardos’s writing, a jesting, inquisitive spirit nimbly examining the relationship between language and reality in inventive articulations that jingle with wit and perceptivity. Lines like ‘I am lost in a desert of my own making’ and ‘Do words work as wood works’ juggle phenomenology, advancing what Tardos observes as ‘the true state of things expressed in phenomena but inexpressible in language.’ Contradiction, paradox, incongruity; it’s all here, the entire caravan of linguistic apparatus crossing the dunes of this enigma, this desolation of self-awareness, this epistemology of dromedaries on the very edge of things. This collection is well-crafted, precise, imaginative, clear. I feel a great intelligence moving among these words. It’s exhilarating. This is the kind of work that inspires me.”