Saturday, February 21, 2009

2 Articles Re Correspondence 2

Correspondence No. 2 is nearly prepared to go to print. This thing is going to be a monster of grace. I don’t even know what I want to mean by that, but the book has muscles. I wasn’t aware of this when it was happening, but we found ways to spend our entire budget on this issue, which is considerably longer than its predecessor, features a handsome cover, an unreasonable amount of strong work by a team of returning contributors as well as distinct new writers (and special guests Richard Loranger and Bruce Andrews), the text on the spine will be printed correctly this time, and the thing even has a barcode. It’s nigh.

There are schemes for convergences to coincide with this forthcoming release. The Corresponding Society is set to return to The KGB Bar (the site of our premiere) on April 23rd to celebrate the journal with a reading in everyone’s favorite Communist-themed literary venue featuring alcohol. More details will be made available presently. Some sort of spring tour is also being considered, which would see a carful of Brooklyn poets driving around to universities, bookstores, and wherever else to make friends and perform a floorshow. I suffer from carsickness, and declined an invitation to travel to China that week (to participate in some literary festival) --- so that I could stay in my room, crying --- so I’m not too involved with these preparations… but I think that Michigan and Washington DC are at least two possible stops. I believe C. Sweeney will likely be one of the readers because he’s the only one of us who drives a car. If you happen to be reading this and are capable of and interested in hosting The Corresponding Society at your school, community center, salon, bar, music hall, or club --- email us re the possibility.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blood on Her Prom Dress

Who Cares If You Read?
or The Poet as Problem
by Lonely Christopher

Poetry is a fancy for retards. Poetry is shall I compare thee to a summer’s day and I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Poetry means nothing and nobody is a friend of the poet. Poetry is a centripetal mode with a vacuum at its heart. Poetry was alchemical before it became a modern science --- back in the days when cavemen were chased by dinosaurs into volcanoes and the universe maintained stupid belief in the myth of its own objectivity. Poetry is a methodist religion with an absent god. Poetry is difficult because it is a form without a function; the form is the function. The poet is a technician specializing in antique mechanics. There is no such thing as “poetic language” and “semantic language” --- there are only sign systems. Poetry is a public service void of applicability but fat with uncurrent virtue. There is only language that begins and language that does not, and poetry is both of those. The composition of poetry is structural/conceptual; it has no relationship with anything of known importance. Poetry is daft faith. Contemporary poetics is a situation. I do not see how or why the situation should be otherwise. Why shouldn’t poetry be boring to the public? Poetry is lacking in poetry. The poet says, “I don’t know and I cannot or will not state why.” Poetry is revenge. Poetry is guilty of the double homicide of its ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her new boyfriend, ontology. Poetry is the same as talented children. Poetry is the surface of a lake. Poetry is a general education in the problematical. The universe is not a science; poetry is research. A simple substitution of “composer” for “mathematician” provides an answer to the situation. As long as the confusion I have described continues to exist, poetry welcomes the history of existence. The products of difference secure against ultimate significance. The result of influence is postwar, nonpopular, and promises the man in the street will cease to live. Poetry is the music of loving what destroys it; poetry is destroying love. I am not writing about your poetry. I am not writing about anything happy or anthropomorphic. I am not writing about the poetry of brains on the walls, I am writing about the architecture of the house where the tragedy took place all those years ago. I am writing about carpet samples and misanthropy. I am meaning my contemporariness, my visits to Youtube, and structural systems that don’t matter and never will. This document is sorry, really. Poetry is an adverb and a phrasal verb awkwardly necking in the backseat of a parked car; poetry is your dad crying when you tell him you’re gay; poetry is blood on her prom dress; poetry is what you don’t read. Who cares if you read?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shakespeare & Failure

The Drama Club
or, Hamlet is cancelled and the kid director feels sorry and low
by Lonely Christopher

Everything is the same failure. The moon landing was filmed underwater in the wreckage of the sunken Titanic. I’ve only ever seen two episodes of “Seinfeld”: the last one and the one that takes place in a parking garage.

A Pathetic Variorum,
Shakespeare is hegemony. Shakespeare is a monolithic prayer. We were born in love with Shakespeare. Shakespeare was bald and gay. Shakespeare was a black woman. What is foundational about Shakespeare? Shakespeare is our vocabulary. Shakespeare is an interesting subject for a new critical study. What is Shakespearean? Shakespeare is encoded with secret messages. Shakespeare is a teenager taking the retarded kid from her gym period to junior prom. We can’t help Shakespeare. Shakespeare isn’t responsible. Shakespeare is a cathedral. Shakespeare is Palestine. Shakespeare is the periodic table of elements. There is no language without Shakespeare. Shakespeare freed the slaves. Shakespeare voted for Proposition Eight. Shakespeare ran over the neighbor’s dog backing out of the driveway on the way to the airport. Shakespeare is someone else. Shakespeare is my document. Shakespeare is a federal prison. Shakespeare is pedophilic sex tourism. Shakespeare is not plural; Shakespeare is a wedding. Shakespeare is nothing. What is reading Shakespeare? Shakespeare’s name is unpronounceable. Shakespeare is a lady’s magazine. Shakespeare is a gun cabinet. Shakespeare is modern medicine. I am going to murder myself by jumping off Shakespeare into the cold river far below. Shakespeare is an English poet and playwright and he wrote Hamlet and King Lear. I sat on a sofa with a girl and she said her brother said Shakespeare hated me. Shakespeare is a divorce lawyer. Shakespeare is Helen Keller wearing a dress soaked in kerosene. Shakespeare is my definition. Shakespeare is our hometown. Shakespeare is a perfect example. Shakespeare is some puffy engine, a cereal box. Shakespeare is the information. We understand Shakespeare. This is a lesson in Shakespeare. Shakespeare is exhausted. When will Shakespeare not matter? Shakespeare is logical pornography. Shakespeare is the military. Shakespeare is the woods outside of town. Shakespeare isn’t out of the woods yet, kids. Shakespeare is terrorism. As far as Shakespeare goes: we liked his early stuff, you know, before he sold out. Shakespeare is a happy camper. Shakespeare is collectable commemorative plates. Shakespeare is a peasant woman watching her only child starve in a gray ditch. Shakespeare is the shape we’re in. I don’t know.

The VHS Bin,
Kenneth Branagh weeps when he gets a new haircut. Kenneth Branagh recites the Gettysburg Address with a belt tightened around his neck. Kenneth Branagh’s spine hurts from carrying a writing desk up ten flights of stairs to the roof. Kenneth Branagh pours salt water into his morning tea. The audience applauds and turns into the film “Jurassic Park” and its first sequel. Lawrence Olivier wipes the shoe polish off his face with the bed sheets; the juicy red flesh inside his mouth is a spooky punctuation mark. Lawrence Oliver bullies a journalist into omitting from a forthcoming article any mention of his having fathered a severely autistic daughter he keeps in a home for invalids and never visits. Lawrence Oliver is an old queen, wearing too much eye makeup, hunched unnoticed at the far end of the bar, nursing a warm Cherry Coke, wincing at the pretty boys all around the joint. Lawrence Oliver makes the waitresses on the breakfast shift uncomfortable. Lawrence Oliver enters pirouetting and fucks his mom, shoving lace curtains down her throat; he goes to sleep presently and has an obvious dream. There are fingerprints blanketing the crime scene like recent snowfall over a yellow prairie of rape. Ethan Hawke dropped out of college in the second semester of his junior year as a political science major. Ethan Hawke prints out a picture of a Nintendo Gameboy from 1998 that he found on the Internet; he tapes it above his bed, which is plastic and shaped like a racecar. Mel Gibson is a dump truck or a sort of plow, some yellow machinery for moving heavy objects around a construction site. Mel Gibson barfs football jocks of stupidly digested scenery during the Christmas pageant. Mel Gibson masturbates to drawings of the character Storm in some wrinkled X-Men comics. Mel Gibson touches his girlfriend’s face like it’s a lump of greasy ham; he doesn’t know what her vulva is. I make unimportant decisions for my friends when they are asleep or in the other room. This house is on fire and burning to the ground. Everything we learn becomes tacky in retrospect; nobody knew what to do when the pregnant farmer’s daughter miscarried an ugly pink germy thing in the parking lot during the lawn social. The town was sick of tire fires and gay bashings. Disneyland was built on an Indian graveyard.

My Dying Voice,
Shakespeare is a tuxedo worn at an awards ceremony. My Hamlet presupposes the tragic end by not happening. This fancy language remains dumped inside my friends’ brains like a baby abandoned inside a parked car, windows rolled, on a hot summer day: the mother on her way to the tattoo parlor before she gets on the bus, her purse fat with nylon stockings and snack cakes. I couldn’t read a clock until after the second grade. I didn’t write this. I made my friends move around in light; I was allowed because I made a play make promises. We don’t have the kind of insurance that covers this scenario. My defeat is a swimming pool filled with the public education system. I don’t care: I want a Shakespeare. The text doesn’t end. My failures are the corpse of a daughter; I carry her, bringing the body in. I edit my victims. I am a drear, greedy murder suspect. I choke on my tongue until a bloody soup gurgles up in my throat. I pray you undo this button. The undone can’t be undone, nothing can be made from nothing. My conclusion is wrapped ingloriously in my nervous system like a dangerous coloring book. A sparrow drops from the firmament and splatters on the pavement in front of Wal-Mart. I watch her pretty guts stain her feathers and bleed around bits of gravel. She’s dead as earth. Do you see this? Look there, look there:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Around Is a Sound

Writers On Music

This is a series of short essays about music from the perspectives of young writers. Several members of The Corresponding Society have been asked to address the subject. The participants have academic backgrounds in fields such as literature, poetics, and history; they are enthusiasts, but claim no formal musical qualifications whatever.

Compositional Modalities
by Lonely Christopher

Poetry and music are composition. The difference is in modality (in the general definition). Sound is the substratum and form is the anatomy of both arts. Some binarisms for poetry and music: the latter is explicit/exoteric, the former is implicit/esoteric. A popular separation between sound in daily communication and musical composition is culturally supported; the technical distinction between semantic language and poetic composition is apparently more problematic. A young writer is likelier to receive unsolicited advice on his craft from his dentist (or his relatives) than a young composer. (The dentist can confidently belittle the former subject because she writes in the patient’s file, she doesn’t sing into it.) Yet, a modal similarity is found in formal qualities of composition: poetry and music are not gleaned magically from the ether but wrought/constructed using methodical grammars. Correlatives between the modes are articulated through a structural perspective. The importance of form in writing is disordered through common attachments to the result over the process (the signified over the signifier) in the use of semantic language; poetic resonance has been misattributed to the tumid gestures of realism. The criticality of poetic form isn’t realized by mimesis; beyond retarding postures, when the referent miscarries (ruining the parlor trick), there remains textual architecture. Nondenotative music is a construction site of compositional arrangement. Consequently, a clearer relationship between the makeup of a poem and processes of musical composition becomes evident. The technique of repetition and variation used by Gertrude Stein in “Many Many Women” (1910) can be read as ancestor to the additive and subtractive processes a musical line is subjected to in Philip Glass’ Two Pages (1968). Unlike writing, music exists at a remove from referential functions of semantic language; therefore compositional formalism is readily available for the musical (whereas it is sociopolitically problematized for the poet). The minimalists articulated this understanding while eschewing the strictures of academic serialism and et cetera. Steve Reich developed a process that he called gradual phase shifting: two operators (either tape machines or musicians) commenced to play an identical pattern in unison repeatedly as the tempo slowly increased on one side, moving through unsynchronized combinations until reestablishing simultaneity. According to this method he composed It’s Gonna Rain (1965), wherein two identical tape loops of a recording of a street preacher were lined up and played on separate machines until they shifted out of synch with each other and created pulsing sound patterns, and Piano Phase (1967), an application of mechanic phasing to a score for two pianists. Reich treats units of aural data in a way that articulates systematic construction and process as a presence of the piece instead of something opaquely behind it. In Reich’s seminal essay, “Music as a Gradual Process” (1968), he writes, “I am interested in perceptible process. I want to be able to hear the process happening.” Equivalently, the structural poet can spell the architecture of his work across the page. Examples of the machinery of the piece being the piece can be found in the early writing of Vito Acconci: “READ THIS WORD THEN READ THIS WORD READ THIS WORD NEXT READ THIS WORD NOW […]” (from an untitled poem, circa 1975). Musical and poetic modes converge in the opera Einstein on the Beach (1976), written by Philip Glass, with a libretto including writing by Christopher Knowles. The totalized shape was constructed by Glass and director Robert Wilson; the music, frenzied or ruminative, is rhythmic and articulate (cyclic and additive processes build complex structures). An extract of the spoken text, written by Knowles: “This love could be some one / Into love / It could be some one that has been somewhere like them / Tis one like into where that one has been like them / Well, it could be some like them / Those like into where like that into this […] The ones are / The ones are / The ones are are / The ones are like / The ones are like into where the ones are the ones / The ones / The ones are like into this / The ones are like that / it[.]” Knowles’ pieces are always compositions of syllabic units and repeated shards of language, formally accumulated with an autistic focus on structuring/processing data. Virgil Thomson’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) has a comparative relationship with its libretto by Gertrude Stein. It seems like Thomson is often dismissed as a tonal modernist of lesser importance than his highly canonized colleague Aaron Copland, and this specific work makes contemporary critics nervous because of its radically bizarre Broadway run with an all-black cast (the concept tends to make some these days uncomfortable enough to scorn it as a deeply racist spectacle and an antiquated embarrassment not fit to consider seriously), but here is something that presents a structurally advanced/sensitive understanding between the language and music, wrought by both talents, which also pushes a theatricality so bold it remains misunderstood these many decades later. The black Catholic saints from Spain singing, “pigeons on the grass alas[,]” apparently decorated in cellophane and grouped in tableaus, and the absence of conventional narrative are elements that accumulate into an idiomatic renegotiation representative of Stein’s compositional tendencies. Thomson isn’t overwhelmed by the novelty of Stein’s challenging project (for which she was internationally notorious then) --- rather, he undertakes to read the mechanics of it and create music that constantly demonstrates, in his own mode, a systematic solidarity. In an investigation into American tonal composers in the first half of the 20th century, The Queer Composition of America’s Sound (2004), theorist Nadine Hubbs analyzes the musical setting of Stein’s linguistic abstractions. Of a duet in act two she writes, “The accompaniment is a sustained, arrhythmic F#-major triad, its voicing immobile throughout this scene. […] Thomson offers up ardency and gorgeousness in this score. But he is always careful to do so dissociatively --- that is, apart from […] the staged scenario, and never in moments wherein [it] would conventionally call for such effects. It is in this regard that his music surely can be called abstract and a perfect compliment to Stein’s text: Where ‘something is about to happen’ for one, the other adopts the counterbalancing pose that ‘nothing is ever going to happen’ --- and what is ‘about to happen’ in any case never does.” The music now, as with the language, sounds like it operates using elements of a familiar paradigm, but the grammar becomes insidiously reshaped. Thomson’s score is beautiful in fits and starts --- it is confidently rude in earnest, articulating a designed renegotiation of a codified mode through processes of abstraction. A Stein sentence might not offer syntactic handles to stabilize the casual reader (who can absorb information with ease if only it is presented normatively); in this opera, what the music is doing technically reaches to settle down conservatively for brief sequences, but definitely possesses a prevailing slippery charge that results from how what the score does and how it does it render the details of rhythm, melody, harmony, and et cetera weirdly unfamiliar within a rubric of received compositional logic. In this, the music and the libretto support each other. Indications of scene changes are sung: “Scene eight / To wait / Scene one / And begun / Scene two / To and to / Scene three / Happily be / Scene four / Attached or / Scene five / Sent to derive[.]” These occasions arrive repeatedly, sometimes unordered, and impractically --- the result is structural dissociation, as signifiers are arranged according to an order other than their prescribed functions and paired with rhyming fragments. Elsewhere, Thomson emphasizes some basic circular language with an epiphanic tone of triumph using horns, cymbals, and exultant bel canto style: “Once in a while / And where and where / Around around is a sound / And around is a sound / And around is a sound / And around / Around is a sound / Around is a sound / Around is a sound and around[.]” The result is the shining awkwardness of new architecture that reflects Stein’s writing; withal, it provides compositional balance between textual and musical modes in a singular fashion not replicated in Thomson’s operatic setting of Stein’s libretto for The Mother of Us All (1946) --- which is comparatively well behaved. Poetics and music also meet, differently, with John Cage. His work sometimes feels like an interface between the aural and the conceptual. Reich criticized Cage for using compositional processes that are imperceptible in performance; nevertheless, Cage’s piece 4’33’’ (1952) could conceivably be argued as a foundational work of minimalism. I recently watched it performed in California, where it has become a museum piece at the SFMOMA. While aural experiences likely to result from 4’33’’ could be recreated, after a fashion, at any time by any individual, the ceremonious framework of listening to and watching it performed makes the piece. The composition is a structured “silence” lasting four minutes and thirty-three seconds; when I witnessed it the musician worked from a score consisting of blank pages, but an alternate version featuring empty staves was displayed in facsimile. 4’33’’ is not a formal erasure of content, but an absence of content supplemented by a formal process that reframes the silence, or lack thereof, as the text’s performance. The musician is prescribed functions that constitute the mechanics of the performance: he sits down in front of the piano, opens the score, utilizes a stopwatch that times his actions, twice opens and closes the keyboard, turns pages, bows at the end, et cetera. The function of the audience is likewise emphasized, as they must process the lack of musical content and the actual lack of silence within silence as it is performatively framed. 4’33’’ is a hybrid (or a mutant) of music and poetics --- it uses neither written words or musical notation directly, but articulates the substratum and anatomy of both arts (insofar as it is about sound and is formally structured). Poetics is quite musical. These two compositional modalities are perhaps the closest related of any of the distinct branches of the arts. The relationship is found in the composition --- both in structural conceptualism and in formally considerate praxis. Different modes, but maybe, as Hamlet said, “two dishes to one table.”