Raymond Federman: from The Carcasses

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:07 AM 0 comments
Yesterday I bought a new tape recorder – and today I recorded a story on my new recorder – this is the story – I call it –


I am sitting in my study -- that's how the story I recorded begins -- I am sitting in my study in California - in San Diego California -- close to the sun -- where I moved four years ago to be with myself and finish my work -- I am sitting in my study looking out the window at the splendid view before me -- incredible the valley the mountains the trees the sky -- beautiful -- I had a good day - I feel great -- good round of golf this morning -- shot an 81 -- yes 81 -- 38 on the front - I hit seven greens on regulation - had two birdies -- back nine a 43 -- two lousy double bogies -- dumb mistakes -- the mind wanders sometimes -- but a solid 81 -- then home to work on my body in nine parts with 3 supplements -- the English transaction -- worked on my scars today -- and I look up and there before me the view -- incredible - and I think -- when you die all this gets extinguished -- nothing more to see -- it's like plunging into a big black hole -- everything becomes dark -- but then it occurs to me that to say that -- to think that - implies the possibility of an after -- of some kind of existence after you die -- could I have been wrong all my life -- no -- I'm not going to fall into the meta-pata-physical stuff -- no magic trick -- not divine power or intervention -- I am human -- I am conscious of being human and alive -- but now you are dead -- so here you are among all the dead carcasses -- yes that's what this story is called -- the carcasses -- here they are -- the old ones that have been around for a long time -- the new ones that just arrived -- all pile up on top of one another waiting for their turn to be transmuted -- transmutation does not happen all at once -- does not happen instantly the moment you become a carcass -- carcasses are not reincarnated the moment they become carcasses -- theirs is a waiting period -- a kind of incubation -- so here you are waiting your turn -- no magic trick as I said -- just that you have to wait for the authorities to decide -- yes let's call them that -- authorities -- and they are the ones who decide when it's your turn to be transmuted -- they call you -- hey you over there come over here -- and they tell you we’re sending you back -- back wherever you came from -- doesn't have to be the planet earth -- carcasses come from all the places in the entire universe -- the place where the carcasses are piled up is a separate zone in the great void of the universe -- nobody knows where it is -- but it's like a huge department store -- a bit like wall-mark -- and there carcasses of all sizes all types all shapes all forms -- but most of them formless - wait for the authorities to call them to be transmuted -- one cannot argue with the authorities -- you have to accept their decision -- and so your turn came and you are told that you are going back as an insect -- yes -- as a fly -- imagine yourself now living the life of a fly -- ok it's a short life -- but still - what is your main purpose in life - your raison d'etre -- to buzz around -- to bug the shit out of the other species -- buzz around the eyes of cows who try to smack you with their tails -- or buzz around human -- shit on window panes or T.V. screens -- but one day you land on the arm or the top of the head of a human and - -bang -- he slaps you with his hand -- and crushes you -- splashes you -- and you're dead -- what kind of a life is that -- so here you are again among the carcasses -- oh you're already back they say to you -- I mean those who are still there -- and again you wait your turn -- well this time your turn comes quick -- no reasons given -- you come back as a flower -- a lovely red rose in the suburban backyard of some nouveau rich on the coast of California -- and you're proud because you know you're beautiful and you smell good -- and the ladies who come to visit or to play bridge look at you and say -- oh what a beautiful rose -- but then one day the lady of the house tells the maid to go get flowers in the garden to put on the dining room table -- so here comes the maid with her clippers or whatever she uses to cut you off -- then she sticks you a a vase with some water -- and soon the water starts smelling foul and it's unbearable -- and you begin to wither and the lady of the house says to the maid get rid of that dead flower -- and the maid throws you in the garbage can and empties the smelly water in the sink -- and here you are back among the carcasses -- what kind of life was that -- now you wait again -- this time a very long time -- maybe a couple of centuries -- even more -- time does not exist in the carcass zone --- but finally the authorities call you and tell you that you are needed among the lions of Africa -- there is a shortage of virile male lions on the planet earth -- and so they are sending you back to be a lion in Africa -- so here you are in Kenyawith three sexy lionesses and a bunch of cubs -- and it's a good life -- every fifteen minutes -- this has been carefully observed by lion observers -- one of the lionesses comes over and begs you for a little humping -- so you rise from your dreamy slumber in the sun -- hump the lioness and go back to the shadow of the trees where you were dreaming of another life -- it’s a good life --- plenty to eat -- the lionesses see to that -- lots of gazelle meat -- and it's fun to play with the little cubs -- but one day a bunch of humans of different colors comes along -- the black ones are half naked and dance around -- the white ones wear funny colonial hats and have rifles --- but they are not here to make a carcass out of you - they want to capture you -- and they do with a big net -- then they stick you in a box and ship you to what they call the civilized world -- lucky for you -- they don't put you in the Buffalo zoo where you would have to spend the rest of your temporary earthly life in a cage wallowing in your own shit -- and with no sexy lioness to hump because now -- because of the lack of exercise -- you're incapable of getting a hard-on – no luck for you -- they put you in the San Diego zoo -- and build for you what they call a natural environment -- of course it's fake -- this is California -- there is nothing natural about this environment they build for you -- it's pure Hollywood decor – you know that - you know it's fake -- but you pretend it's really to make the humans feel good and happy so they don't send you to the Buffalo zoo -- but you're bored in this phony Walt Disney environment -- most of the time you sleep -- or pretend to be asleep -- especially when they bring their children to look at you in fear -- they would like you to look and act ferocious -- so once in a while a human pokes you in the ass so you can roar -- what kind of a life is that -- okay they bring you these big chunks of meat -- beef -- but one day they give you a piece of meat that comes from a sick cow and you die -- you die of the mad cow disease -- and you're back among the carcasses -- well I won’t go into all the possible animals or humans or vegetables or whatever you could come back -- imagine yourself as radish -- what kind of a life that would be -- or an artichoke -- okay a tree -- a big majestic tree -- that would be okay for a while -- but then all the other trees around become jealous because you're taller -- or because your trunk is bigger than theirs -- or your leaves are more beautiful -- then one day some humans come with a big saw and cut you down to pieces and burn you – what kind of a stinking life is that --and here you are back again among the carcasses -- and while waiting for your turn to come again you think -- I know dead carcasses are not supposed to be able to think -- but for the convenience of this story let's just say that they are capable of thoughts -- you think -- why can't I have a voice in the decision of what I will become next -- why can't I make up my own ... -- well I was going to say mind -- let's just say my own carcass -- and since you were once a writer in one of your transmutations -- you compose a very stylish message addressed to the authorities asking if maybe it isn't time for the carcasses to have a say in the process of their transmutation -- so this stirs up things in the carcass zone -- there are discussions -- debates -- polls -- and all sorts of things like that -- and finally the authorities agree -- so now the carcasses must come in front of them to discuss what they would like to become -- it's a very complex and lengthy process but eventually you decide what you want to become -- for instance me I often said that if I were to come back I would want to come back as a roman gladiator so that I could lead a revolt against the roman emperor -- or come back as a musketeer -- or as a French lover -- or as -- as -- as -- it's not easy to decide by oneself what one wants to come back as -- this is why I think the best thing to do here -- I mean here in this story -- is to let the readers decide themselves what they would like to come back as -- and if this is ever published -- let's say in the New Yorker -- then I would insist that the last page of the story be a blank page where the readers can write what they want to be in their next life -- of course someday -- the way science is making progress -- carcasses might be able to come back as objects -- imagine coming back as a stove or an electric razor -- or better yet -- as a golf club -- that would be an interesting life -- here you are a brand new Taylor Made titanium 360 driver with a graphite shaft -- not a bad life -- wellat least until the golfer decides that you're driving him crazy with the way you slice the ball and decides to buy a carcass reincarnated as a King Cobra 560 driver with an anti-slice shaft -- and throws you in the garbage -- imagine what a life that would be -- by the time I finished recording this story it was dark outside my window and the splendid view had vanished into the night –

[N.B. An extraordinary & prolific writer -- & even a notably experimental one – his decision taken twenty years ago, he tells us, was to “never again accept a blurb for one of my books from anyone – and I went even further – I decided to write my own blurbs.” The following profile, then, is taken from his blog, “the laugh that laughs at the laugh(http://raymondfederman.blogspot.com/ ):

IN THE SANDBOX He constantly tortures himself to know who he is, he wants to know, wants to understand himself, but perhaps it is this ignorance of his self that is his strength, his destiny, never to understand himself and to remain always misunderstood ... He offers himself totally, his head, hands, mind, soul, zipper, all open, not to expose himself, but as an initiatory gesture ... This is his way of saying, I am here, everything I have is here take it ... Such ego as he may be said to have is the referred ego of those outside of him who give it back to him as they see him ... He is not generous in any received social, sentimental sense, it is simply his nature not an acquired virtue, a personal gesture, like the way he watches over others ... He is a child in a sandbox asking others to come and play, but no one comes to play with him ... More often than not, they mirror him, but the mirroring does not reflect, it obscures who he is ...”

The excerpt above is from a new collection of his writings, Carcasses, now in progress.]

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Getty Museum Panel April 25, 2002

Somewhere along the way Kurt Schwitters wrote the following, with which I’d like to start my presentation of his work:

My aim is the total work of art, which combines all branches of art into an artistic unit. . . . First, I combined individual categories of art. I have pasted together poems from words and sentences so as to produce a rhythmic design. I have on the other hand pasted up pictures and drawings so that sentences could be read in them. I have driven nails into pictures so as to produce a plastic relief apart from the pictorial quality of the paintings. I did this so as to efface the boundaries between the arts.

Although Kurt Schwitters is recognized as one of the seminal visual artists of the earlier twentieth century, his achievement as one of the major poets and theorists of Modernism has so far not received the same degree of attention, at least not in the English-speaking world. Art critics and museum curators, perhaps because of their professional leanings, tend with few exceptions to consider his language-oriented work as a curious by-product of his art or as a minor phase of his early, Dada-associated career. While such an appraisal may ring true for others (we used to think it was the case, say, with Picasso), it is a distortion of Schwitters' accomplishment, especially because he himself never saw his art and literary activities according to some such hierarchical model. On the contrary, Schwitters' push was toward an ever greater integration and equivalence of the various facets of his artistic oeuvre. In this sense -- in that extension of Dada experimentation that he personalized with the coined word "Merz" -- his attempt "to efface the boundaries between the arts" resembles and predicts the work of such later artists as Cage, Oldenburg and Kaprow, indeed of a significant portion of the ”postmodern" generation. (It is also in clear opposition to Stein’s contention that “the egotism of a painter is an entirely different egotism than the egotism of a writer” – that their thought and practice come, so to speak, from irreconcilably different sources.)

Schwitters wrote prolifically throughout his life. His earliest poems date from his student days in pre-World War One Germany, his last writings from 1947, the year of his death in England. It is in his poetry, he tells us, that he made his initial breakthrough as an artist, and it is in the fusion of the poetry and painting that he made his entry into Merz. Besides the poetry, the boundaries of which he stretched as much if not more than any of his contemporaries, he wrote essays and manifestos, plays and fictions. Although most of his writing was in his native German, he also wrote in English and Norwegian (he renounced the German language during his exile in World War Two). The true extent of his written opus has only recently become apparent, thanks to the five volumes of his collected writings (Das Literarische Werk), published by DuMont Verlag in Cologne.

Kurt Schwitters' continual inventiveness is revealed by even a cursory glance at his collected writings. He ranks squarely among the protean writers of the first part of the twentieth century, along with poets such as Apollinaire, Stein, Tzara, Marinetti, Pound, and so on. The professed sweep and aim of his poems (no contemporary poet worked with or developed more new forms and genres) are truly Poundian or even Wagnerian, though without Pound's or Wagner's mytho-historical ambitions or ideological strictures. Schwitters worked all his life towards a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, as an amalgamation of elements from all artistic genres assembled through the common synthesizing principle of radical collage. His famous Merzbau (Merz Tower) was "an extraordinary architectural-sculptural column, or assemblage" as Lucy Lippard describes it, or Schwitters himself: "I am building an abstract sculpture into which people can go."

Schwitters also conceived but never brought into full play the idea of a Robert Wilson-like total theater, as what he called "the ultimate, total Merz work ... distinguished by the fusion of all factors ['even people may be included'] into a total work of art." But even in his smaller visual collages, words invaded the world of paint and form, not only as detritus from the commercial/banal world around him, but speaking to the issues of his time -- signs of a democratizing politics and of a poetics of everyday life: "the search for an artistic complex in an artless world ... and from that complex the creation of a work of art through acts of framing." This highly conscious quest to use everyday objects and language-shards -- "banalities" he calls them -- is foregrounded by Schwitters in a number of theoretical texts.

Viewed in the narrower sense, Schwitters' poetry-as-such displays a similar sweep and inventiveness. It includes early expressionist lyrics (the most radical of which already move him towards his kind of asyntactic poetry) and their later, often hilarious reworkings ("An Anna Blume" is the primary example), Dada and proto-Surrealist poems, and vocovisual experiments, often taking the shape of what would later be called sound-texts and concrete poetry. While he is best known now for the latter [sound]works (his "Ur Sonata" foremost here), his language experiments also led him into other areas of what he called "abstract poetry," where syntax was dissolved or transformed, isolating words or placing them in untried combinations, as an exploration of the problematics of referentiality and non-referentiality in language


The beggar
Of about
Of abutments
The grass

Of such work he writes: "In poetry, words are torn from their former context, dissociated, and brought into a new context where they become formal parts of the poem, nothing else." His central methods here, as with his best known paintings, are those of collage and assemblage or, as he describes it: "[The poetry] is analogous to Merz painting in making use of given elements such as sentences cut out of newspapers or taken down from catalogues, posters, etc., with or without alteration."

But for all of his radical language experiments, Schwitters, during his most active period on native ground, was the author of what was possibly the best known and most popular German poem of the 1920s, “An Anna Blume," and his almost equally popular "Ur Sonata," a wordless 35-minute performance poem, is to sound poetry what Joyce's Ulysses is to the twentieth-century novel. If the success of "Anna Blume" -- "both a Dadaist poem ... and a sentimentalized Expressionist one," as Elderfield describes it -- came easily, the success of "Ur Sonata" was more equivocal and depended in large measure on Schwitters' own personality and presence as a performer. This involved not only his performance tours with avant-garde colleagues like Theo van Doesburg and Raoul Hausmann, but appearances like the one described in almost mythic terms by the Dada artist and film-maker Hans Richter, which took place in Potsdam in 1924 or 1925 in a private house and before an audience made up largely of the local gentry, retired generals and other people of rank from the old Prussian nobility:

Schwitters stood on the podium, drew himself up to his full six feet plus, and began to perform the Ur Sonata, complete with hisses, roars and crowings, before an audience who had no experience whatever of anything modern. At first they were completely baffled, but after a couple of minutes the shock began to wear off. For another five minutes protest was held in check by the respect due Frau Kiepenhauer's house. But this restraint served only to increase the inner tension. I watched delightedly as two generals in front of me pursed their lips as hard as they could to stop themselves laughing. Their faces, above their upright collars, turned first red, then slightly bluish. And then they lost control. They burst laughing, and the whole audience, freed from the pressure that had been building up inside them, exploded in an orgy of laughter. The dignified old ladies, the stiff generals, shrieked with laughter, gasped for breath, slapped their thighs, choked themselves. Kurtchen was not in the least bit put out by this. He turned up the volume of his enormous voice to Force Ten and simply swamped the storm of laughter in the audience, so that the latter seemed almost to be an accompaniment to the Ur Sonata. ... The hurricane blew itself out as rapidly as it had arisen. Schwitters spoke the rest of his Ur Sonata without further interruption. The result was fantastic. The same generals, the same rich ladies, who had previously laughed until they cried, now came to Schwitters, again with tears in their eyes, almost stuttering with admiration and gratitude. Something had been opened up within them, something they had never expected to feel: a great joy.

There is no anonymous or absent author here, but a remarkable, self-defined, and often misunderstood artist. He is also, incontestibly, one of us.

[The Schwitters excerpts are taken from PPPPPP: Poems Performance Pieces Proses Plays Poetics by Kurt Schwitters, edited & translated by myself & Pierre Joris, published & still available from Damon Krukowski’s Exact Change. The opening section of this talk, including a discussion of the poetry of Pablo Picasso, appeared in an earlier posting.]

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Henry Munn: from “The Uniqueness of María Sabina”

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:13 AM 0 comments

[An independent scholar and writer, Henry Munn arrived in Huautla de Jiménez, the home town of María Sabina, for the first time in 1965. His essays on Mazatec religion and related subjects have appeared in anthologies published by Oxford University Press and the University of California Press and in journals such as Plural (edited by Octavio Paz), The CoEvolution Quarterly, New Wilderness Letter, and the Journal of Latin American Lore. His essay on María Sabina, “Writing in the Imagination of an Oral Poet,” has been a beacon for me, as have his extensive and thorough translations of her chanted poetry. The latter are still readily available in María Sabina: Selections, the second volume in the series Poets for the Millennium, edited by myself and Piere Joris for the University of California Press, from which this excerpt comes as well.]

Since María Sabina is the most renowned Mazatec shaman people tend to think that she is the only one, without realizing that she is part of a living tradition. The comparison of her chants with those of four other shamans I recorded in Huautla between 1967 and 1980 -- one woman and three men -- shows the similarities between her vocabulary and theirs, at the same time as it throws into relief what makes her different from them.

The form of the chant -- short enunciations ending with tso, “it says,” like a vocal punctuation mark in the flow of speech, a reference to the voice speaking through them, is used by all the Mazatec shamans – especially when they shift from speech into song. It is a cultural creation: a way of canalizing the energy released.

There is also a shared vocabulary between shamans and a common stock of standardized expressions that they all draw on in their chants. "Slowly and with care / with sap, with dew / with greenness, with clarity," María Sabina says again and again over the sick boy during the Wasson Velada [nighttime curing session] to create the mood the words evoke. Ho nca inta, ho nca nangui -- "slowly and with care,” literally with one's feet on the ground -- is something that is said to people when they set out on a journey. It is one of the stereotyped expressions commonly used by the shamans. The cluster of words --ntsin: "sap,” the milk inside a plant; xoñon: "dew"; xcoen: "green" in the sense of fresh and tender (the color green is sase); and yova: "clarity" -- expresses the quintessence of the Mazatec shamans' illuminated sense of nature. They all use these words in different combinations in their chants.

Another couple of words that go together in the chants of María Sabina and those of the other Mazatec curanderos are yo – the buds of a flower; and chi?nte -- tender in the sense of what is young, newborn, a plant just shooting up. Mrs. Eloina Estrada de González, who translated the recordings for me, translated this couplet as "offshoots and tenderness." In the chants of María Sabina I render them as "buds and sprouts." These words, which refer to the stages of growth of plants, are used as metaphors for babies and children. This is the view of life of an agricultural community.

Khoa nta -- "grace, goodness" and khoa vihna, khoa visen -- "life and well-being" are correlated in the parallel constructions of the shamanic chants with "sap and dew,” "greenness and clarity." The opposites of these four kernel words are "garbage and dust" (tje, chao); "whirlwind and wind" (xquin, ntjao), -- figures of speech for sickness and disputes. María Sabina frequently asserts that it is the work of her "saints" -- meaning the mushrooms -- to dispel them and clear the air.

Her words go together in couplets. These double expressions in which the same thing is said twice in different ways are a characteristic of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican rhetoric. Other common stereotyped expressions that recur from shaman to shaman follow this same pattern: ngui xcoin, ngui ntso?vai -- "beneath your eyes, beneath your mouth"; ma and tao -- "poor and humble (or loved)"; tsin khoa?aon, tsin khoa?nte -- "there is no resentment, there is no rancor"; cjain ni, kishikhoa ni -- "it is certain, it is true.”

They all inherit from their culture a repertory of themes and motifs on which each one works his or her own individual variations. When María Sabina says she is a chjon chjine xki, chjon chjine xca, chjon chjine en, chjon chjine khoa -- "a woman wise in medicine, a woman wise in herbs, a woman wise in words, a woman wise in problems" -- she is stating her culture's concept of the shaman's role. The other Mazatec chota chjine -- "wise ones" -- all define themselves in exactly the same terms.

She often says: "I am a woman of the light, I am a woman of the day." Here she is playing on the Mazatec word for spirit -- sennichi -- by breaking it down into its two component parts: sen -- physiognomy or light, depending on how it is used; and nich i-- day: the destiny of a person determined by the day sign of his or her birth -- the Mazatec equivalent of the Aztec tonalli, which meant light, heat, day, and spirit. She usually says before or afterwards: "I am a woman espíritu,” translating the native concept into Spanish. Other shamans do the same thing. Another wise woman prays: "Bring his appearance, bring his day." A shaman from Loma de Chapultepec on the slopes of the sacred mountain opposite Huautla speaks of "the path of the cane of office, the path of the staff, the path of the light, the path of the day (ntia ya, ntia nise, ntia sen, ntia nichi) of each of his patients.

She herself says of her host during the Folkways Session that he is a "man with a green staff, a staff of clarity ( nise xcoen, nise yova ).” The words of a medicine man from Xochitonalco, a hamlet near Huautla, recall hers; he says to the old couple he is speaking for: "You should take your staff of dew, your staff of fragrant leaves. Grace, life and well-being. Green staff, staff of clarity (nise xcoen, nise yova)." The leaves he is referring to are those used in the steambath to hit the body so as to make the air circulate.

The path is a common motif in the chants of the Mazatec shamans who live in a mountain world of footpaths where people leave the tracks of their bare feet in the brown squishy mud. The experience takes the form of a "trip." One function of the shamanic chant is to guide the effect of the mushrooms on the participants and lead them by suggestion along a good path to a healing cathartic experience. María Sabina speaks frequently of following in the footsteps of Christ. Compare her words with those of the medicine man from Xochitonalco: "It is life and well-being of our Father, says. It is sap and dew, says. It is buds and tenderness, says. It is the path of the tracks, it is the path of the feet of our Christ, says." Sometimes the path is that of the extravagated spirit of the sick, which has to be followed to where the person was frightened. The wise woman sings: "We are going looking for the path, the path of his paws, the path of his claws, from the right side to the left side we are going to work, says." The shaman from the Loma de Chapultepec, sitting in a chair before the family altar in the house where he has been called to give a ceremony, states: "The work I came for is to divine for them, how they are in their door, their dooryard, the path of the tracks of their feet." At one moment in the Folkways Session, María Sabina says: "I am going to receive there in the path / I am going to receive the enchantment / I am going to receive his light, his day / the path of his soles, the path of his feet." She means she is going to reintegrate the person with his or her sennichi-li. For her the path of the hands and the feet is what one does, where one goes.

In Huautla people would explain the similarities in vocabulary and figures of speech between different shamans by saying that it is the mushrooms speaking through them. I don't think we can accept that explanation, which from the scientific point-of-view is a personification into an imaginary entity of the unconscious powers of language. None of the curanderos and curanderas I recorded had heard each other speak, but they had all at one time or another in the past heard other shamans give ceremonies, either when they were children or when they were sick and had to be cured. The uncanny way the couplets of the shamanic chant imprint themselves on the memory of ordinary listeners, even when the exact meaning of the words is beyond them, suggests how the liturgy of the mushroom medicine rites has been transmitted from generation to generation.

María Sabina when she was a child heard shamans sing like many Mazatec children who have lain awake at night listening to the strange words of medicine men and women singing in the darkness under the din of the rain on the thatch roof or with the chirp of the crickets in the background. The raw psycho-physiological experience is shaped by cultural models. When she began to eat the mushrooms herself, she already knew the form of the chant and the type of things that are said.

What then distinguishes her from her contemporaries?

First of all, her musicality. Within the traditional framework of the ritual, developed to utilize the psychoactive medicine for therapeutic social purposes, each shaman has his or her own magic song, distinctive voice, personal melody and individual manner of conducting a ceremony . Nevertheless, the melodiousness of María Sabina's chants, their rhythmical transporting effect, is unsurpassed except at moments by other singers.

The effect of the mushrooms she has eaten for the power to cure make the body vibrate. Hence her humming -- a way of tuning herself in to the energy flowing through her. When she invokes the Virgins and the Saints, she draws out the endings of their names into reverberant tones. At the same time she marks the intensified pulse beat of her physical existence by clapping and uttering sequences of vocables: ecstatic phonation, articulatory play, a vocalization of impulses, a rhythmical syllabification of energy.

So so so si are the component parts of Jesusi -- a common exclamation of Mazatec women. Ki ko ka ka ki form Kristo. Ma ma ma mai become madre.

The syllables are used as beats; meaning is broken down into pure sounds and recomposed from them again. The vocables sometimes seem to go back to the babble of babies. In her repetition of santo santa the binary alternation of sounds is what she likes, the contrast of to and ta. This is a level of vocalization I have heard in no other Mazatec shaman. The large part played by percussion, humming, and the enunciation of syllables in her ceremonies exemplifies her expressionistic creativity and distinguishes her performances from those of her contemporaries.

What is not on the printed page is the sensorial condition of heightened sensitivity in which her words are spoken and heard: their resonance. In many passages the lilt of her voice carries a force, conveys a sense of enthusiasm that is not present in just the words themselves. It is the music of the shamanic chant, its rhythm and melody, that moves the listeners as much as the words and cures them by the power of song to uplift and transport the soul.

She alone of all the shamans says: "I am a trumpet woman, I am a drum woman, I am a woman violinist." Her words bring to mind the mushroom ceremony pictured at the center of the Codex Vindobonensis Obverse -- an ancient Mixtec pictographic book from an area of what is now the state of Oaxaca not far from the Mazatec mountains -- where 9 Wind -- the Mixtec culture hero -- dressed in the attributes of the wind deity the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl -- is shown officiating as a shaman, playing on a rasp with a human skull for a resonator, the volutes of speech coming out of his mouth.

Wasson describes her dancing as she sings, turning around in the middle of the dark room, lifting her arms in gestures of adoration and imploration. Her activity of expression is total: musical and gestural as well as verbal. The whole body speaks. Listening to her talk in ordinary life, without understanding what she was saying, I was struck by the idiosyncratic gestures she would make with her hands and fingers. Of all living Mazatec shamans, María Sabina was unquestionably the greatest because of her radical, extreme personality.

One of the most distinctive features of her chants is how she assumes the being of the phenomena she names by saying "I am" this or that. One shaman -- by day a shopkeeper in the market -- asserted "I am he who speaks with the mountains" (a male perogative, the women kneel on their mats, imploring), but even though he evoked eagles and vortices of colors, he did not identify with them. The level of discourse of the other chota chjine is practical, functional. They emphasize what they do -- cure -- and what they want -- to get rid of sickness. In the chants of none of the other shamans I have recorded does the "I am" have the same importance it does in the words of María Sabina.

Her identifications are like the masks the Tlingit and Eskimo shamans put on and took off (bear spirit, deer spirit, moon, kingfisher, raven, eagle, old woman, cloud spirit, the spirit of the driftwood, even bubbles). This is Coleridge's "Infinite I am" of the "primary imagination." The "I is an other" of Rimbaud.
. . . . . . .

[For examples -- written and audio -- of María Sabina's chanting, check the following: http://www.ubu.com/ethno/soundings/sabina.html.]

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El Corno Emplumado: Tribute & Poem

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:46 AM 0 comments
[Written for a presentation at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (New York University) of the documentary film el corno emplumado/the plumed horn - una historia de los sesenta, directed by Anne Mette Nielsen and Nicolenka Beltrán, followed by a panel discussion including Sergio Mondragón, Margaret Randall, Jerome Rothenberg and Cecilia Vicuña. Moderated by Anne Mette W. Nielsen.]

When you say in the title of the film “a story [una historia] from the 60s,” it seems like only yesterday to me, while to others it must be like what the twenties felt like to us back in the sixties. It’s a story, then, from forty years ago, and forty years in real time is, I think, a great duration by anyone’s reckoning. But ”the sixties” as such is also an idea, and the idea gets repeated and modified over the intervening years, until it becomes, in anyone’s mind, more real and clearly more enduring than the time itself was. The difference between then and now, for me, is that then I lived with hope and now with only a kind of desperation. Yet it was at the beginning of the 1960s – which weren’t yet the 1960s as we speak of them – that Robert Kelly proclaimed for me (for us) a “poetics of desperation” in which we came to share. In relation to that and what followed, the real 1960s (which included also the early 1970s) were a kind of time between – a liminal moment, as we liked to say, in which what was possible and hopeful dared to assert itself against the odds. And those odds, that oddness, meant a real war then in progress and a real clash of ideas in which we called for change and transformation – not just a change of political parties as now, but “a total assault on the culture” (in Ed Sanders’ words) and growing from that a total transformation, for which we thought (or some of us did) that poetry’s changes were a signal of the greater changes still to come.

It was in that milieu of desperation and hope that El Corno began – part of a cultural underground that thought it was finally coming to the surface (to the light). Many of us had magazines and presses then (it was part of our privilege where we lived and worked) but with El Corno there was also something different. In the U.S. the greatest exultation among poets was over the flowering – and the domination – of North American poetry. (The ”American grain” clearly as William Carlos Williams had it – not an imperial venture but pretty close.) But what Corno did, what it brought together were the two Americas – not only an international perspective but a truly collaborative venture across two or more languages and cultures. The larger world view (weltlieratur as Goethe had it long ago) was implicit in this – in practice here more than in theory – and something more than literature in fact: a youthful call on the revolutionary poets, the shape shifters of the world – to unite!

With all of this I was a delighted fellow traveler, looking up from my own poetic efforts and glad to respond to Meg’s and Sergio’s call when it came [Margaret Randall and Sergio Mondragón]. And for six or seven years thereafter I was a recipient of the amazing mix of images and voices that was El CornoEmplumado and blesst to think that I was a part of that as well. I had a place in nine or ten of their issues and they were the publishers as well of my fourth book of poems – The Gorky Poems (Poemas Gorky) in 1966 – a bilingual work with translations into Spanish by Sergio and Meg. In the mode of celebration, I want to read a poem or two from that and to end my presentation with a poem I wrote in 1966 and translated myself into Spanish, to mark the fourth anniversary of El Corno Emplumado. I will read a few lines of the Spanish translations and then the poems in English.

[Reads] from The Gorky Poems: ”The Pirate” and ”Child of an Idumean Night.”
[Then reads] A Poem for El Corno Emplumado:


6 agosto 1965

corno emplumado deliciosa pluma albaricoque y aurora
de inventos enmascarados con corno emplumado
levantándose del mar revelándose corno emplumado
corno emplumado corno emplumado de muerte
corno emplumado de recuerdos corno emplumado de relojes y manzanas
corno iridiscente y emplumado mis muebles de lienzos vacíos

. . . . . . .

plumed horn delicious feather apricot & dawn
rising from the sea revealing plumed horn
of masked invention with plumed horn
plumed horn of memories plumed horn of clocks & apples
iridescent & plumed horn my furniture of empty canvases
plumed horn abandoned horn delightful whispering & vanished horn
is plumed horn dreaming in me forcing
plumed horn’s knowledge growing plumed horn’s veins & arteries
the pulse of plumed horn I was mad to feel
of plumed horn thrust of plumed horn through your flesh
of bullets bursting from plumed horn
of jellyfish & squid black sperm liquid liquid liquid plumed horn mass
of plumed horn substance substance into shape
of birthshape submarine plumed horn
plumed horn of sex
plumed horn of risen penis swollen cunt plumed horn
plumed plumed horn is biting
opens into empty rooms the flesh is red & violent with plumed horn
white along the sides of plumed horn
sweat is plumed horn
cunt on tongue is plumed horn
clitoris is plumed horn
fat of buttocks hair of ass is plumed horn
plumed horn passage plumed horn entry entry
dawn is plumed horn
dust of streets is plumed horn
marsh is plumed horn
vegetable is plumed horn
eye of squash is plumed horn
featherseed is plumed horn
flag is plumed horn
cry of the dying animal is plumed horn
white white is plumed horn
black is plumed horn’s sighting of plumed horn
plumed horn learning all the colors
plumed horn all liquids meet & are plumed horn
plumed horn my love my loves my deaths my memories my cry into your throat
o let us never die plumed horn plumed plumed horn plumed horn
plumed horn to bury us & to be plumed & be plumed horn

[first published in el corno emplumado, number 17, january 1966]

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[The original posting appeared on February 15, just prior to this one.]

Dear Jerry--

Thank you again for this. I looked at the post this morning & beyond my pleasure at its being there, in the presence of such remarkable company, I'm very happy with the way you presented it. Lori feels that the piece itself is best read as bits picked up slowly, read & reread over a course of time, meandering & wandering, perhaps allowing oneself to get lost, but not so completely that one loses the desire to return again to the swirl of the labyrinth. So I think offering an excerpt from one of the longer chapters, particularly the first, which has such a nebulous & uncertain way of drifting, both captures the scope of the work & invites one into its vortex. & I like also very much where you chose to end the excerpt. It seems to me at a moment which moves toward "clarification" -- in hints of a psychological & emotional need for expression arising from the experience of pain -- yet the "background" of such need remains mysterious & unresolved -- prior to the act of witnessing or testifying -- which the piece continuously defers, in spite of its promises to do otherwise.

I also want to remark on your blurb, which, once again, I feel extremely honored by. The comparison with Nerval is an extraordinary compliment, & raises all sorts of questions concerning the relationships between experience, memory, vision, dream, & the act of writing. Nerval, of all writers, has impressed me most with the ability to write from within the Vision. From within the Dream. The writing itself taking on the uncanny qualities of a lucid unfolding & passing beyond fantasy & the reflections of imagination into ... what exactly? What you have called "overflow."

The fact is that for me -- in the midst of my most vibrant & terrifying waking-dreams, visions, hallucinations -- whatever one wishes to name them -- I was entirely incapable of writing at all. Not only "unable to find the words" -- beyond the disorganization & the aphasia -- something more terrifying. That any word I might attempt to grasp on to -- to put into utterance --would transmogrify & reassemble its meanings through the counter-speech of "the others" -- the dream creatures --the meaning makers -- so that to speak, or write -- was to drown, to stutter in the echoing cavern of a language I could barely decipher, barely comprehend. A writhing language. I could not speak within it. Even now, I can only speak of it in neologisms & babel -- through the shadowscream, the cri-cri, the skree, & the glug-glug. In beginning to write, record, witness, question & doubt -- I had to begin with the emptiness between images & signs -- of what couldn't be spoken -- or could be spoken only negatively, in the Hegelian sense, against the impossibility of speech, the muteness -- in silence & scream -- in thought -- & in memory -- memory because such an experience raises the question of what has happened, what can be spoken of as real, what can be raised as doubt, & what belongs to the materiality or illusion of consciousness as it struggles to protect itself from that which would & does, quite literally, destroy it. For there were times when the "onslaught" of the visions, the dreams, the meanings, the noises of signification, were so difficult to bear that I would pass into catalepsy & lose consciousness -- I think simply to escape them. To write was & is, in some sense, to return to the visions -- beautiful, sublime, horrible, ecstatic, & absurd. A slow & difficult labor -- particularly in the beginning -- before the processes of writing & remembering -- gathering & restoring-- could begin to do their work. Slowly the remembering became more lucid, & then the dreaming. & then the fabric & the purpose of the writing grew stronger. & the "overflow" was no longer a terror, a horror -- but finally a sort of means -- a way of growing into & through what had been so boundless & uncontrollable.

Interesting to me that I began A Labyrinth ... in my last & -- I do not hesitate to profess it -- final period of hospitalization. That in a significant way the writing has been a means of transforming this experience -- not simply of avoiding, confining, or eluding it -- but of providing it with a meaning beyond itself -- rewriting it toward some purpose -- allowing it to emerge beyond the familiar cultural meanings & necessary outcomes without falling back into the private meanings of its own delusional system, its fears, its horrors, its ego driven & solipsistic ideas of reference. Refusing to choose between these. I suppose one could say that I was simply unsatisfied with the semantic field of "madness" -- of schizophrenia -- of the terms through which my experience must necessarily be defined & constrained by our cultural paradigms. Of the limitations of such a term's possible or inevitable outcomes. Even within it, "the madness," I always had a sense of a genuinely ritualistic mode of performing the possibility of becoming -- summoning a sort of transformation. The terms "psychological," emotional," "spiritual," & "cognitive" do not quite capture it. I could work with these terms, alongside them, at their edges & fringes -- but had a sense in which their fit was imprecise, shallow, & devoid of meaning. "Madness" was not to be purposeful-- & yet mine seemed to be so.

So ... extending this discussion even further ... I have yet another something to thank you for. Which is the fact that through your work & ideas I had already become familiar with yet another kind of "overflow" -- the reaching for processes, ways of being, performances, actions which overflow such paradigms & spill out into the wilderness of the uncertain in new & unexpected directions. New definitions & contexts which allow us to imagine what such a "madness" might become in a culture other than our own -- in which "hallucination" is no longer "hallucination" but a gift of vision -- vision a calling, & calling an opportunity to act in the creation of what is truly of value, meaning, & importance. To think beyond the Influencing Machines, beyond the Desiring Machines -- finally toward such a paradoxical idea -- the Shaman-Machine.

with love & deep respect, Bruce

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Say the poem is a journey
taken with silent walking sticks
on a path strewn with memories
deaf, dumb,
blind & beyond measure.
Its mouth filled with words
its pockets filled with stale bread.

Say it is an elixir derived from chlorophyll
or the royal jelly of expressionistic bees.

Say its stops & turns are towers, shrines
or little discomforts in sleep.
That each of its shafts pierces
a separate element of dream.
That its bewildering sunlight
is a glittering city where ecstasy dances
hand in hand with death.

It was something I went
looking for.
I was afraid of getting
lost. & so I hid
in the island of branching voices
illuminated by the ubiquitous pathos
of forgetting. Something had
torn a hole in my heart
like a leaf, extended finger,
or bone. & so I stuck
to the honey of something
heavy & eternal--
a breath where celestial light
fell in spurts
dampening the pain
of the infinite unmooring.

Say that it is
or say that it isn’t.
Say that its exhibitions of false skies
are symbols of a catastrophe
at the dead ends of streets.
Say that its arrangement of white
sticky sugar skulls
is the hypnotic process of forgetting former lives.
That its burnt & empty homes
are the paralyzed angels
in the next century’s enactment
of Paradise Lost.
That its black tarantulas are seedlings
or the trials of an affective disorder &
that its iridescent scarabs
are the ozone above a chronic facultative storm.
That its conscience is a giant
in the form of a dragon guarding the treasure
of deceased gods.

I felt my existence
pressed against me
like a heel
piercing the grain
of the bark
of a fruitless mulberry tree.
I remember it from childhood
when its flesh stopped
falling & its leaves
turned a color of brilliant
unfed reason
that blistered in laughter
at the raindrops
which fell from the blue-
silver patina of branches above.

Say so much of its
weight that it sinks
ten times
into the river
traversed by smoldering bridges.
& that the ash
of these bridges turns to bone.
& that inside these bones
floodlights surge
into the eclipse
of solar meaning.

I looked forward
to it
where dwelling
in the sky
in the form of a hand.
My hair hung heavy
at my side
like the muscle & bone
of a being drawn
on a page outside of time.
My tongue wagged
this way & that
inside the continent
of my mind.

Say it is circle, screen, or vessel.
Or that its round is flat
& drifts in-between
this broadstone
& that clenched idea
of a terrible god.

My arms weren’t what
they used to be. When
I pointed to a star or rooftop
angry dogs barked in the distance
while the shrill whistling
of trains drove me further away
from home. Into the hands
of enemies who advanced
on all sides
in signs,
light, doors, baskets, empty casements,
hallways, grass, & mirrored reflections.

Or say it is earth, sun, star, or moon
the purple veil between
this realm & the next,
or paralyzed boat adrift upon
the black sea of wintered orphans.

Say it is the alchemical soup
one swims through in a dream.

I saw a light at the end of a tunnel
which grew in distance
the faster I ran to it.

I was in the back seat
& found that my vehicle
drove on faster & faster
completely out of control.
Each of the immense clocks
in my room had turned
an insane color of red.
My heart palpitated
like the motion
of a fish pulled
from lake, stream, or sea.

Say it is the daylight of fissure
& sunwheel
or the darkness of
the muteness of moonlight.

I learned to
hunt & play
in the shimmering starfoam
of darkness--
I’ve heard the hyena &
the tokay make noise
by moonlight. In the
circular music of their mouths
my own screams ceased
& I plunged into the depths
of their secrets.
. . . . . . .

[Concerning Stater’s Labyrinth of Vision, the opening of the first section of which is presented here, I’ve written previously: "To say it quickly: Bruce Stater’s Labyrinth of Vision is little short of extraordinary – a work that ties language to a journey truly taken & a mind in extremis that acts to record it. Stater, as I read him, writes with a sense of imaginings that reminds me of a poet like Gerard de Nerval in his visionary prose work, Aurelia, where ‘dream is a second life’ & ‘an overflow’ into the everyday. As with Nerval & a small company of others, then & now, the vision & the language are inseparable: ‘a Journey of remembrance & metaphor,’ as the title of Stater’s first chapter tells us. If you want to take that as merely literature, feel free to do so; it is that & something more: a place where metaphor rings true & is – for the duration of the vision – the only truth there is. ‘It is light, it is dark,’ the old Aztecs said in defining their own labyrinths, & it is also the mark in Stater’s labyrinthine journey of a strong new voice in poetry.” The complete version of Labyrinth of Vision is available as an online book from Ahadada Books at http://www.ahadadabooks.com/content/view/119/41/.]

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On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12, 1809), the following is the closing paragraph of On the Origin of Species as reprinted in Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, in the section called “A Book of Origins.” We take it as a meditation – practically a prose poem – on the poetics of evolution and include it there to heal the breech, if it ever existed, between poetry & science.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

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The Art in Poetry & the Poetry in Art, Part One

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 11:00 AM 0 comments
Getty Museum Panel April 25, 2002

There was a curious and probably terminal moment in the relation between Picasso and Gertrude Stein that came at a time – in 1935 – when Picasso found himself unable to paint and turned to writing, to poetry, as an alternative form of expression. When he showed some of the resultant work to Stein – or read it to her as the story goes – her response was quick and unequivocal. “The egotism of a painter,” she wrote and lectured him in explanation, “is an entirely different egotism than the egotism of a writer.” And again, recounting the event on her own: “This was his life for two years, of course he who could write, write so well with drawings and with colours, knew very well that to write with words was, for him, not to write at all.” In saying which, she deliberately extended her conclusion to all painters, who are by nature and by vocation different from all writers.

Some such separation of the arts is probably a more common idea than that of their unification, though hardly a settled point, either then or now. A somewhat similar view, for example, turns up in Stein’s younger contemporary, Ezra Pound, who demanded in his 1914 Vortex manifesto a separate defining characteristic for each of a range of arts:

Every concept, every emotion presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form. it belongs to the art of this form. if sound, to music; if formed words, to literature; the image, to poetry; form, to design; colour in Position, to painting; form or design in three planes, to sculpture; movement to the dance or to the rhythm of music or of dances.

Pound of course was speaking here of a separation of the arts and not of a restriction on the capacity of an artist to move from one to another. (He himself, it should be pointed out, experimented later with musical composition [an operatic work called Villon], to say nothing of the occasional construction of furniture, which he did, on the model perhaps [or perhaps not] of William Morris.)

It’s curious too that where Pound asserts that “the vorticist will use only (italics mine) the primary media of his art,” he cites as his primary examples “in painting, Kandinski, Picasso.” While Kandinsky in 1914 was already into something like a painting based on “colour in position,” he was also experimenting with poetry and multimedia performance. Concerning his book of poems, Klänge [Sounds], Hugo Ball wrote in 1917: “Nowhere else, even among the Futurists, has anyone attempted such a daring purification of language.” And to mix things even further, Kandinsky had already, in the Blaue Reiter Almanac, published the text and score for Der gelbe Klang [The Yellow Sound], as his own modernist/expressionist version of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk.

At this point let me just suggest that Pound’s and even Kandinsky’s crossing of genre boundaries was rather modest – even at times rather hokey – compared to Stein’s far-reaching, truly radical experiments with language. Still, as practitioners they were open to the crossing – Kandinsky a germinal figure in that direction – while other artists went even further, functioned as language poets / language artists (so to speak) or as creators of unprecedented works in defiance of all genres. Among those who sensed an underlying unity of poetry and art – and practiced it – were Schwitters, Marinetti, Arp, Picabia, Apollinaire, and Hartley, and to a lesser degree (perhaps), Klee, Breton, Lorca, Miro, Ernst, Duchamp, and Dali. (Mallarmé, whose Coup de dès comes at the end of the nineteenth century, might be another example of a poet creating a major and germinal work of verbovisual art.)

There is with all of this a strong sense of the interpenetration of poetry and art, along with a welcoming of artists who worked both fields or – better – fused them. Collaborations between visual and verbal artists were even more common – in books, in performances, in manifestos. I am thinking here of the activity around Russian futurist books, Italian Futurist performances, Dada evenings at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich and later in Paris and Berlin, and the profusion of collaborative livres d’art that involved most of the major artists and poets of French modernism. (These are only the best known examples among many others.) Of the artists who crossed over on their own, it seems to me that those in the early part of the twentieth century were primarily visual artists (painters) rather than poets – conceivably because increasingly open forms of poetry and the blurring of distinctions between poetry and prose allowed any literate (writing) person to enter the ranks, while painting and sculpture retained a more specialized status, at least until the final decades of the twentieth century. (At that point the hybridizations were widespread and extraordinary.)

* * *

Having said this much, I will now limit myself to a brief consideration of two twentieth-century artists, Pablo Picasso and Kurt Schwitters, and try a much too rapid assessment of what they were able to achieve as poets.

Both Picasso and Schwitters – much like some of the other crossover artists I’ve mentioned present themselves at some point as being primarily “poets.” (This is possibily an indication of the prestige around the idea of “poetry” and “poet” at a time when the idea of “art” was already coming into question.) Schwitters, who was into the making of poetry (language art) throughout his artistic life cited poetry as a primary activity and included it always as one of the arts whose boundaries from the other arts he intended to erase. And Picasso, for all of his acclaim as the century’s principal visual artist, was reported to have said of himself, “that long after his death his writing would gain recognition and encyclopedias would say: ‘Picasso, Pablo Ruiz – Spanish poet who dabbled in painting, drawing and sculpture.’” (Miguel Acoca, “Picasso Turns a Busy 90 Today,” International Herald Tribune, 25 October 1971)

Picasso’s engagement with poetry and with poets goes back to his early days in Paris, but the writing itself comes only in the mid-1930s, when it erupts with considerable force and continues until the creation of an ultimate masterwork, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, in 1959. The Cubist connections are best known and involve an interplay with a range of poets living and working in Paris – Stein, Apollinaire, Jacob, Reverdy, and Salmon, among others. The chalked sign over his studio door in Montmartre read au rendez-vous des poètes, and the exchanges with poet friends would have been not only about the new painting but the new poetry as well. (The “new spirit” or “new mind,” Apollinaire had called it in a famous essay.) Writes his principal biographer John Richardson about the ambience of what he calls Picasso’s “think tank”: “It enabled the artist to become vicariously a poet – a poet in paint, not yet a poet in words.” And even so the verbally dense newspaper collages and isolated stenciled words that marked his Cubist canvases give us a measure of how far he had already gone in opening his art to language.

Through all his work in fact there was a “need for poetry” (the phrase here is John Cage’s, in relation to his own writings), and that need brought Picasso to an alignment – in the 1920s and 30s – with the younger poets who made up the core of Paris-based Surrealism. Prior to the 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism and the founding that December of La Révolution Surréaliste, members of the about-to-be Surrealist group countersigned Breton’s essay “Hommage à Picasso,” which appeared in the June 20th issue of Paris-Journal. From 1924 to 1929 works by Picasso were reproduced in eight of the eleven issues of La Révolution Surréaliste, and he was often cited by Breton and other poets as an exemplary Surrealist figure – “their prophet,” Patrick O’Brian writes, with sufficient quotations to back it up. Or Breton, who had “claim[ed] him” as “one of us”: “If Surrealism is to adopt a line of conduct, it has only to pass where Picasso has already passed and where he will pass again.”

The full engagement with poetry came in 1935 – a hiatus in his painting practice touched off by a financially distressing divorce but also, I would suggest, by a sense of the impending war that was building up in Spain with dire consequences for the rest of Europe. Here is how it first comes into his notebook writing as an extended piece of unpunctuated and multiphasic work of prose and poetry, dated 18 april XXXV:

if I should go outside the wolves would come to eat out of my hand just as my room would seem to be outside of me my other earnings would go off around the world smashed into smithereens but what is there to do today it’s thursday everything is closed it’s cold the sun is whipping anybody I could be and there’s no helping it so many things come up so that they throw the roots down by their hairs out in the bull ring stenciled into portraits not to make a big deal of the day’s allotments but today has been a winner and the hunter back with his accounts askew how great this year has been for putting in preserves like these and thus and so and always things are being left behind some tears are laughing without telling tales again except around the picture frame the news arrived that this time we would only see the spring at night and that a spider crawls across the paper where I’m writing that the gift is here the others putting ties on for the holidays that we’ve already had it for the nonce and that it’s just the start this time around

And so on for another twenty pages of margin-to-margin writing, which would be typical of most of his later poetry – not automatic in any strict sense but heavily worked over and marking the beginning of several years of poetry, which he would practice sometime as an almost daily exercise. (The big prose poems have no titles in fact but only dates.) The let-up came around 1941, but it was during the war years in fact that he wrote his two plays, Desire Trapped By the Tail and The Four Little Girls, and in the 1950s he produced two major works of poetry, Hunk of Skin and The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (the title of the last – if not its content – derived from El Greco’s great painting)

There is little that is trivial in Picasso’s work as a poet, and the energy and rapid-fire shift of images brought from Surrealists and Breton the response (totally different from Stein’s) that Picasso had joined the ranks of those who were pushing poetry, pushing language to its limits, even in some ways beyond the workings of the Surrealists themselves. So Michel Leiris, in a later overview, declared that Picasso was “an insatiable player with words ... [one of those who, like] James Joyce ... in his Finnegans Wake, ... displayed an equal capacity to promote language as a real thing (one might say) . . . and to use it with as much dazzling liberty.”


[The Picasso excerpts are taken from The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, & Other Poems, edited by myself & Pierre Joris, published & still available from Damon Krukowski’s Exact Change. The section of this talk on the poetry of Kurt Schwitters will be presented in a later posting.]

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[A note after the fact: A review of this reading appears on Douglas Messerli's Green Integer blog: http://greeninteger.blogspot.com:80/, dated February 17, 2009.]

On 13 February, Friday - 7:30 PM Beyond Baroque, Los Angeles will host a launch for Poems for the Millennium Vol III: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, with editors JEROME ROTHENBERG & JEFFREY ROBINSON, featuring the Editors with WILL ALEXANDER, SIMONE FORTI, DAVID MATLIN, and DOUGLAS MESSERLI.

Like its two twentieth-century predecessors, Poems for the Millennium, volumes 1 and 2, this gathering sets forth a globally decentered approach to the poetry of the preceding century from a radically experimental and visionary perspective. The book’s 900 pages offer a range of poets and movements and a series of links between romanticism and the multiple modernisms to which it gave rise – from canonical poets like Blake, Goethe, Shelley, Hölderlin, Hugo, Pushkin, Whitman, Dickinson, and Baudelaire to lesser known but equally innovative figures like Dionysios Solomos (Greece), Cyprian Norwid (Poland), Sousandrade (Brazil), Adah Isaacs Menken (U.S.A.), Arno Holz (Germany), and Yosano Akiko (Japan). In the spirit of Rothenberg’s earlier volumes, Poems for the Millennium, volume 3 also includes ancient and tribal works newly recovered in the nineteenth century and numerous experiments with written and spoken language that form a dynamic linkage with the experimental poetry of a full-blown modernism and postmodernism still to come.

Beyond Baroque is at 681 Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the Millennium event, with copies of the book available, is free and open to the public.

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Gematria (4): Two Poems, for Allan Kaprow & Tom Phillips

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:37 AM 0 comments


I bring him
the wine

& stretch out
in life

like the sand
in my ears

these were
were worn old
& were sore

his life
in your hand
[or] in our hand

in greatness



Paris 1997


[1] Tom = 9 + 1 + 40 = 50

the man

his blood

a sea
to his hand

in the night

[2] Phillips = 80 + 10 + 30 + 10 + 80 + 60 = 270


cries out

a stranger

was angry
& hurt


“like lambs

[3] Humument = 5 + 6 + 40 + 6 + 40 + 70 + 50 + 9 = 226

you have spoken

according to
its length

spread abroad
& to the side

before our eyes

like so

[Two previously unpublished gematria poems, these will appear later this year in Gematria Complete, to be published by Mariela Griffor’s Marick Press. The process, as elsewhere, is based on a quasi-aleatory system of traditional Hebrew numerology.]

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Yves di Manno: Two Poems from the French

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:35 AM 0 comments


What they
would say a man
would say

that the rain

was a threat / that a man
had drowned
the body of

his child / a body

in the river (in the
salt mine) said it again
& for no reason / and the

snow at long last
on the abandoned
broken streets

drops down like

a shroud on
the throngs
wandering by


on the
banks far off
where the children

are dying / the men

keep silent and stare at
the sky / the fixed
stars the bow

& the lyre may we

the dying man’s


a man once gave me
the name that I’ve
carried / you should have

seen how
the sky on this theme
hauled out its white

ink / and the corpse
on the earth of the macular

stretched out alone
in the order of

“Au Terme”

For that night who would speak? / whose shadow
Fanning out veiling a drop more of the pond

Where the lonely voice could be lost –
Be reborn in the morning in hope of his song

Between the spread branches of beech
On the crushed carpet of dead & dry leaves

Trod underfoot by a horde of men
Passing by on the outskirts of villages

And shared there the fruit of their plunder
Then one by one scattered. A single one

Lingered who ought to have sung them
(Those wars) unable to live in a peaceable

Time, so ephemeral, so on the edge of an
Other frontier – over the land of that woman

She who once lived, on the banks of the lake
Where slowly the silent

Boats anchored, heavy
With harvests of green wood. Leaning alone

On a tree trunk he dreamed
Of countries they crisscrossed / later

Of wheat fields & deserts & massacres
Wrought that winter on women their throats slit

Of black children hanged, of the bellies agape
From which worms oozed out, of the severed necks

Of the draft animals – all of these
Harvests, these farms that they torched

Smoke & fog in his memory that one sole
Morning he’d want not to speak of, facing

The uncertain land in front of him
Austere & dry. Because something would

Illumine him too, with a name he no longer
Recalled, nor what mystery ever would justify him

But under the tree would bruskly
Make sense of his story:

A fire inside the fire from yesterday evening
The sword in his hand with no past

A man still in back of this man
Tamping down the cinders that morning –

For the sake of repose, who knows,
Simply there / beyond page and plain

Of a singer / a warrior

Translations from French by Jerome Rothenberg

A Note on Yves di Manno

Born in the Rhône region of France in 1954, Yves di Manno is an extraordinary poet, translator, essayist & editor, who presently lives & works in Paris. Since the 1970s, he has been collaborating on various poetry magazines, has translated several major American poets (William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, George Oppen, among others), & has published more than twenty books of his own poetry, among them: Les Célébrations (Bedou, 1980), & Champs (1984-1987), Kambuja (1992), Partitions (1995) & Un Pré, chemin vers (2003), the last four with éditions Flammarion. He is also the author of a number of critical works on twentieth-century poetry: La Tribu perdue (Java, 1995), “endoquote” (Flammarion, 1999), & two “narrations as dreams”: Domicile (Denoël, 2002) & Discipline (Ed. Héloïse d’Ormesson, 2005). He has been the director for many years of a major poetry series at Flammarion, through which he has edited nearly 100 books, including an important collective work: 49 poètes, in 2004. He is also the editor of a newly translated edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, published in 2002, & his epical translation of my own Technicians of the Sacred was published by éditions José Corti in 2008. His poem "Tertre," excerpted here, is like other of his poems a work in many parts.

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