Sunday, July 31, 2016

This is a continuation of my thinking for my paper on Gerard Manley Hopkins and the avant-garde. This is a little incomplete and ragged right now, but I wanted to share some thoughts.

Language Play in Hopkins and the Coming Avant-Garde

“Patterns of play, when seen as a whole, illuminate both his art as a poet and his unique imagination. . . Playfulness touches almost everything Hopkins treats: God the saints, sacraments, himself, other people . . . When he plays, Hopkins’s preferred modes are whimsy, comedy and the incongruous, wit, light satire, and silliness.” (Feeney 173).

I am not really sure what other forms of play there are besides that list, so it might be said that Hopkins’ wordplay embraces much, if not all forms of play that are available. Feeney further describes some of Hopkins' more whimsical images in his poems.

[W]himsy includes imagining himself as a woodlark, buxom football, and a Welsh bard. The moon wraps herself in scarfs, and Welsh hills hug cow-clouds for rain-milk. A little square house is like a man with a toothache and a bright stormcloud like a shiny bland heard. Moonlight is a blue cobweb. God sits on a thunder-throne and creates with hewing axe and tricking water. Christ is a stage-actor and the Holy Ghost is a male who cheers on a fellow cricketer and a female who broods on her huge world-as-egg. Christ, Mary and the saints live in a lighted barn as Hopkins peeks through a knothole. Stars are fire-folk, citadels, diamond mines, elves’-eyes. A pocket watch is Hopkins’ “mate” and his poems are babies, a pile of linen and dirty Thames-water. Pixies, fairies, goblins, and witches grace hi pages. And he blows a kiss to the stars.

Feeney also cites “wordplay hyphenates, concepts, and sound play” as elements of Hopkins’ poetry. This is the stuff of the avant-garde as well, including avant-garde movements such as Dada and Surrealism, Oulipo, and the Language Poets. It must be said that Andre Breton and others who have come after him stress that Surrealism is not a product or a style, but an approach. Thus, there cannot be said to be any truly Surrealist literature that doesn’t emanate from the imagination, from the subconscious. You cannot “copy” surrealistic style. Furthermore, Breton maintained that Surrealism was first and foremost, a verbal, not a visual, art form. “Whoever says expression says, to begin with, language . . . you must not be surprised to see surrealism place itself first of all almost exclusively on the plane of language.” 2nd manifesto. Surrealist Mind p. 44

I am going to use Dada and Surrealism, which are very closely related and which had many of the same artists involved in both movements, to compare to Hokpins’ poetry for a number of reasons. First, because they are among the earliest manifestations of avant-garde activity and most avant-gardes that came after were reacting to them, either in the positive or reacting against them. Second, Andre Breton had published Hopkins and evidently held him in esteem. And third, and most important, because of the timing of Hopkins’ life and publication, which was very close in time to the historical moment that Dada and Surrealism had developed out of. Had Hopkins’ life gone on for another 20-40 years, into his 60s or even his 80s, he would have had direct knowledge of those movements. Whether or not he would have joined or affiliated himself with them is a matter of pure speculation. I will deal with the pros and cons here briefly before I move on. There are arguments for both sides.

Hopkins and (anti-) Clericalism

Notably, there was the anti-clericalism of Breton and many Surrealists. While it did not keep Breton from admiring Hopkins, it more than likely would have put Hopkins off and kept him from affiliating himself too closely with the movement. In fact, because the Surrealist movement was so heavily French, Spanish and German, most of the Surrealists were Catholic in upbringing and Benjamin Peret was one of the most anti-Catholic anti-clerical members of the surrealists ( For someone who was not only a Jesuit priest in the Catholic Church, but had converted to Catholicism as an adult, this would likely have precluded Hopkins’ from participating fully within the Surrealist movement. Hopkins was a very devout Catholic. In fact, in 1888, his last year, he wrote:
I was a Christian from birth or baptism, later I was converted to the Catholic faith and am enlisted 20 years in the Society of Jesus. I am now 44. I do not waver in my allegiance, I never have since my conversion to the Church. (qtd in Harris, XV.)

Notwithstanding, Harris sees in Hopkins’ “terrible sonnets,” written in the final years of his life, something of a crisis of faith; certainly a different direction, which Hopkins called “inspirations unbidden and against my will . . . [that] revealed a deformed image of his own humankind and a violation of Christ’s body” (xiii). Harris talks about a shift in Hopkins’ poetry “that illustrates the grave anxieties the age experienced in seeking a sound basis for epistemology in the face of a metaphysics exploded by ocean empiricism and a Biblical authority devastated by Higher Criticism” (4). At the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, the crisis of faith suffered in the West corresponded in large part to the rise of science, as well as the horrors that were to come out of World War I. Hopkins was feeling the pull of the former and was decidedly trying not to let doubt overtake him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Avant Garde (a draft)

There is some confusion about where to place Hopkins and some people have a desire to place Hopkins within the avant-garde due to his playfulness and experimentation with language. Christopher Wilson writes that Hopkins doesn’t have “a comfortable place in literary history” (137) due to his idosyncracies and “unusual style” (137) placing him both before and after his time, a kind of harbinger and throwback, but other crtcis “are quite certain that Hopkins belonds to the Victorian age, even though they find his literary style difficult to trace” (137). Tom Zaniello describes Hopkins as “a Victorian poet but also a forerunner of modernist poetics”(4) Meredith Martin, likewise, writes “construed by critics as “always obscure” and “on the whole disappointing; . . . too often needlessly obscure, harsh, and perverse” (qtd. in Roberts 89, 111), the first edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems, published in 1918, baffled more readers than it converted.”

In fact, in a letter to Robert Bridges, Hopkins wrote of his own work:
“No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness. I hope in time to have a more baanced and Miltonic style. But as air, melody, is what strikes me most of all in music and design in painting, a design, pattern, or what I am in this habit of calling 'inscape' is what I above all aim at in poetry. Now it is the virtue of design, pattern or inscape to be distinctive and it is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped” (qtd in Milroy 6)

Thus, Hopkins knew that his work was odd, that it was influenced by the science of the day, and that he was out of time. His desire was not necessarily to move poetry forward to a new place for a new time, but to be part of the tradition of poetry that had come before him. In this way, as a poet he has much more of the English attitude than the French.

William Donald Harvey’s dissertation at the University of Toronto, written in 1999, discusses Appolinaire, Mallarme, and Hopkins. But two of those writers came out of the French tradition rather than Victorian England and while Hopkins spoke French, he also associated “Parnaissanism” to describe competent but uninspired poetry. He identified this trend particularly with the work of Alfred Tennyson, citing the poem "Enoch Arden" as an example[citation needed].[1] Thus there is little evidence to suggest that Hopkins was influences by any kind of proto-avant-garde activity in France, despite the fact that Hopkins; own life was wthin 20 years of the beginning of avant-garde activity in France. The Chat Noir the bohemian parisien cabaret, started in 1881. Stephen Mallarme, who was considered a precursor to the avant garde, was writing in France from until his own death in 1898. Gerard Manley Hopkins died in 1889, so it is entirely conceivable that he was aware of these goings on. Whether or not he found them significant or paid them any mind is another question. A very cursory glance shows that in the 19th century France was still dealing with the after-effects of revolution, internal strife, and certainly anti-clericalism, which would continue to dominate into the early 20th century of the avant-garde as well.

In fact, The pull between tradition and advance, which would be part of Hopkins’ struggle, that would mark him as somewhat different than avant-gardists, especially of the French, as they rushed forward to embrace the new and impending technology, as evidenced from the Italian Futurists and the Dadaists, who embraced newness. Hopkins found himself caught, trapped, by Victorianism, which in poetry, resulted in trying to deal with, manage, the increasing onslaught of industrialization and in many cases, to retreat back into nature.

Monday, July 11, 2016

I have a review of this book published in Rain Taxi Review of Books online. Check it out!

Friday, July 08, 2016

41 - for Diallo

This is a poem I wrote nearly 15 years ago after the Diallo verdict in NY. Amadou Diallo was an African immigrant who was unarmed. He reached for his wallet to pull out an ID and was shot 41 times in the crossfire of NYC police. All 4 police officers were acquitted on charges of excessive force.

I wish this poem were more dated, that this was all over with, not escalating more and more. It's kind of like Bono saying that Sunday, Bloody Sunday was not relevant, and then finding that it was, that it had new resonances that he hadn't anticipated when he wrote it.

This is now dedicated to Philando Castile in Minnesota, and to everyone who has lost their lives to excessive force and overreaction by the police.

Many people say that we need to feel sorry for the police, but that is their JOB. Their job is to put themselves in the line of fire. That is what they signed on for and if you can't take the stress without killing people, without bullying, without excessive force. then turn in your gun and GET A DIFFERENT JOB.

Driving down the street should not be putting yourself in the line of fire. Being mentally ill, homeless, young, old, etc. should not put you in the line of fire. Those things are not the same as signing up to be a police officer, getting paid to carry a gun, and knowing that you are putting yourself at risk when you leave the house. Castile, like Diallo and myriad others between them, did not realize that by leaving their homes they were putting themselves in danger.

I also don't think cops should be on the beat as long as they are. They get a warped view of humanity when they spend 10, 15, 20 years on the beat. They learn to see everyone as a criminal and a threat.

And then there's the militarization of our police forces and our entire society. We as a society have become too militarized. This is what 15 years of perpetual war has done to us, of bringing the war home, of making everyone identify themselves as citizen soldiers in so-called homeland security.

All of this needs to be taken down by many many many notches.

Click on the number/title 41 to hear the audio clip as you read it.


For Diallo

Someone must have mistaken you for the Devil,
the monster outside the door that could not be killed with mortal means.

I bathed in the river of dead fish;
beside the park a cacophony:
children pointing fingers in a chanting circle.
Beneath my feet the dusty bones of ancestors murdered
in my own myths vanquished
to make me whole.

Although we live like children, these are not games we play.
Absent fathers do not sweep under the bed for monsters after dark.
41 holes in a trembling effigy now tucks us in at night the undertakers
will wax a smile upon your lips as you leave behind an island nation of
inmates to sit upon your throne of honor.

I walked through the skeletal hallway, my joints disconnected my bones
falling away beside me my seams unraveling.

Who brings you into the light at this moment? The flashlight in your face, the steam off your skin, El Diablo, someone must have thought.


41 tasks I gave you and the stables remain unclean.
41 days from the deluge/first drop and already you forget how to swim.
41 winks - you will not wake from this sleep.

I bathed in the river of dead fish to rinse you from my skin.

These are not games that we play we run home dusty and
sunburnt expecting someone to tuck us in.

Friday, June 24, 2016

At the Midwest Writing Center Conference Writing Triolets

The Midwest Writing Center in Davenport Iowa is having its annual conference. It is really good for me because it has gotten me out of the house and also spurred some creativity. Because I got a grant to publish Karawane here in the QC, it also gets me out and meeting people and doing some very necessary networking.

Today in the workshop we were dealing with writing in form, writing with limits or obstructions, and exquisite corpses, although the workshop leader did not call it exquisite corpse.

Here are three triolets that I created today. The first two were using lines suggested by someone else and the third was from my own lines.

The Last Remaining Housepet

Throughout my life I had many pets
but now I have only one cat.nd
She roams the house, for friends she frets.

Throughout my life I had many pets.
Lonely for companions she gets,
She lies around alone becoming fat.
Throughout my life I had many pets
but now I have only one cat.


Today, almost like all the time, slips,
then night comes, and I look at my list.
I am gymnast, doing cartwheels and backflips.
Today, almost like all the time, slips.

For everyone, my spouse and boss and kids,
for all except myself done with a twist,
today, almost like all the time, slips,
then night comes, and I look at my list.

And here is the one that is purely mine:

Triolet to childhood

When the skies were blue and trees were green,
they played together every afternoon.
In every game they lived a dream,
when the skies were blue and trees were green.

Pirates! And damsels! The king and his queen!
Would build, race, and like lovers swoon,
when the skies were blue and trees were green.
They played together every afternoon.

Not bad for just 20 minutes of writing.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

This is a little something I am working on that will be part of a big something--ie, a 20-25 page paper--on GMH and the avant garde. This is just a modest beginning. Hope you like it.

Modernist writings in English, particularly those of the avant-garde have two particular threads to them: interiority and language, threads that frequently come together in work. Andre Breton wrote in the Second Manifesto of Surrealism, “Whoever says expression says, to begin with, language . . . you must not be surprised to see Surrealism place itself first of all almost exclusively on the plane of language.” While they all come at the subject with different perspectives and approaches, it is safe to say that 1ll poets are concerned with language, just as all poets are concerned with imagery and even with the question “what is the good life?” All avant-gardes begin somewhere. Breton traces Surrealism back to fairy tales and even back to the cave paintings of ancient times. Moreover, we can look to the generation that came immediately before Surrealism and contemporary avant gardes, to see their more recent influences. One such influence is Gerard Manley Hopkins. Many theorists agree that Hopkins' own use of language and his theories of language put him ahead of his time while his nature imagery and his own deism make him very much a product of Victorian England. It seems not too coincidental that Hopkins didn't not have a complete collection of his own poetry published in his lifetime, but rather his collection of poetry was not published until 1918, a time when Surrealism in France was taking over the stage from Dada, with both movements having a desire to use language to spur different types and ways of thinking, to scramble the ordinary ways of thinking that lead to ruts and worse, for the Russian Futurists, familiarity. Even now, Hopkins and his use of language remains an engima to many literary critics who seek a box to place him in, as either a religious poet, a Victorian poet, or even an abstruse poet. Hopkins defied all of the expectations of his day with his writings and his theories of the inscape and the instress as well as with the religious themes of his work, which were not nearly as orthodox as a Catholic writer of the 21st century. In fact, there are movements within the contemporary Catholic Church to bring Hopkins' view more in line with the orthodoxy of the faith than there was in Hopkins' own day.

In a 2003 article entitled “Poetry: A Prognosis,” critic Dick Davis cites the poets Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins as difficult-to-read eccentrics who are responsible for the problems faced by contemporary poetry. He describes Hopkins as an “odd-ball poet whose work is hard to paraphrase and to scan” (28). Davis states that the notion of a poem that can't be paraphrased would have been completely alien to anyone before 1800 (29). Apparently Hamlet's soliloquies could have been neatly summed up, with no attention to language or detail. Davis blames poets like Hopkins for causing poetry to lose its vernacular audience (30). Those darned odd-ball poets. If only they would write more accessible poetry, rather than being concerned with language and the stuff of poetry. I perceive this, ironically, as a peculiarly modernist critique of poetry. Is it that modern poetry, let's say starting from the mid- to late-19th century is more obscure and more difficult to understand? Or maybe readers and audiences of poetry are more sophisticated, having come to expect more from poetry? Did the rise of the novel kill interest in poetry? Or did it free poetry to be able to be more focused on language and form and less focused on communicating a point to people? What about film, radio, television, popular music? There seem to be many more options available than just poetry that would cause people to turn away from it than just blaming a few poets for being odd-ball and making poetry “too difficult.”

TBC . . .

Monday, March 07, 2016

Iron Pen Poetry Submission

For what it's worth, this was my poetry submission to the Midwest Writing Center's Iron Pen Contest this past month.


She played with trucks and dolls dressing
them in khaki and in pink interchangeable because
the world was “mine” to define and she the
center of al solar systems, blind, everything
made for her desires and when she grew
older and played with books and
paper-flimsy ideas the universe and
its many suns did not change she moved
around other planets that orbited each
other and in riddles laughed and pictures they spoke that
no one could enter but time and tide as it is said, took
their lives over to
kids and lovers payments they owed to live in
cars and houses the small offices brown and cubed but she
stayed the same her orbit around her own small suns growing smaller
no one else left to riddle and battle the dark holes filling the spaces left
when she was utterly
alone only her paper flimsy books to protect her
from the swirling world opened their pictures and her riddles to
her they were there when all of the other planets had grown distant
and uninhabited to her explorations unable to hear or respond
to her transmissions.

They hung in there, even when she was broke, alone, and sorry.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nebraska, Midwest: The Flyover Zone

So here I am, on another bus, caught between the chemical smell of the bathroom and the jerks who got on in Des Moines at 5:00 am and talked all the way to Omaha – for 3 hours—and played their too-loud-for-that-hour-in-that-small-space music. And I realize that the problem with my accursed novel that I have been writing one year out of every ten for the last 30 years is that it isn’t what I had assumed it was about. It is about buses. All of the best, most interesting parts of it, are about buses.

And as I travel through Nebraska, another new state for me, as will be North and South Dakota, I realize why the coasters East and West think of this as the flyover zone. Because it all looks alike. Indiana bleeds into Illinois bleeds into Iowa into Nebraska and Kansas, as well it should, because the geography, the land, doesn’t recognize borders as they are drawn. It has its own natural borders and so part of Iowa bleeds into part of Minnesota. Pat of Missouri bleeds into part of Illinois. All the towns look virtually the same, from the red and brown brick buildings, the run down and dilapidated buildings, once manufacturing now left for dead in the “new economy” and in that way, even the man-made part of the landscapes seem to be linked, connected, even natural. This is how it is in this part of the country. Settlers, immigrants, whatever you think of them, built these towns and now that they have outworn their usefulness, the ones that can, leave. The bus depot in Lincoln is both garage and warehouse, put up with a large square multi-use aluminum building, one built not for any specific purpose. Generic. The area around the bus station looks just like Tomah, Wisconsin, with it’s one- and two-story generic motor lodges.

The bus depot in Omaha looks like the “new” bus station in Chicago, only smaller and slightly more dilapidated, but with the same metal seats and the same lockers. The Chicago station was built 20 years ago, and so is not really new anymore. But it replaced a much larger and more distinctive one, one that had Burger King and other restaurants inside and was actually pleasant to sit in. And so this bus station will always be the “new one” to me. The one that looks out of place amid all of the new condos built out of the old warehouses, and that will probably be driven out yet again within the next 10 years. People who can afford condos don’t want bus riff-raff wandering around their neighborhoods.

I remember when my parents sold their business and bought a half-acre of land in Florida, on which they put a double-wide mobile home. My mom used to say sarcastically, jokingly, and not without pride, “we’re trailer trash now.” People who can afford condos just off of downtown Chicago do not wait trailer trash or bus trash going through their trash.

I take a swig of soda as we get back onto interstate 80 westbound for Grand Island, Nebraska toward my ultimate destination, Albuquerque.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Postmodernism inside Modernism: Dada and the Postmodern

If one of the great projects of political modernism was nation-building, including building empires, one of the great projects of postmodernism, in which the literary, artistic, and political are conterminous, is fragmentation. The sun has set on the British Empire, and the French and the Belgian and the Dutch Empires. The nations of Africa and Asia are politically independent of the West. Their artists and writers no longer reflect on the glory of those empires, but write about their own experiences, about their experiences as subjects – of an empire, of a newly-formed country, as a woman in a male-dominated culture, as an artist trying to find their way in the world, etc. Their audience is not exclusively those of us in the West anymore. They write and make art for themselves, for their own country, for their own historical moment. This is partly why the postmodern is considered fragmentary—because we recognize our subjectivity as different depending on which group we are a part of at the moment. The opposite of fragmentary is unitary—and modern: assuming a unitary self that assumes its place in a unitary empire under a united flag.

Many of the early avant-gardes were accused of co-opting African and Asian styles of art, but many of those movements were also anti-colonialist. While the most “modern” avant-garde was Futurism, which did glorify war and fascism, which did glorify the Italian state, others, such as Surrealism, were actively involved in the politics of the day. The Surrealists supported the Rift War for Moroccan independence and Andre Breton was present in Haiti as revolution broke out in the 1960s, a revolution some say was in part spurred by surrealism and his presence in Haiti at that time. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo who were considered Surrealists were involved with revolutionary politics in Mexico, an anti-colonial, if still nation-building project, straddling the line between modern and post-modern politics.

The first postmodern art movement was Dada, with its international cadre of artists, with its rejection of specific nationalities, and most of all, with its fragmentary styles of art, literature, and performances that at first confounded and incensed their audiences. Cabaret Voltaire itself was a mishmash of politics and art, most of it unintelligible to the art-sophisticated audiences of its day. Dada was already post-modern while aspects that we associate with literary modernism was still in its infancy, learning how to stand on wobbly legs and take a step. Dada, with its assault on all styles of writing, on very meaning itself, took on such quintessentially modern behemoths as Soviet style communism, with its empire, uniting the countries of northern Eurasia in the teens and twenties. Dadaist writers were distinguishable from modernists such as Joyce and Pound because there was not a search for new meaning but for no meaning, for circumventing meaning and therefore finding something outside of meaning, to communicate through bypassing conscious understanding altogether. Not that this was a feeling-based art form full of sentimentalism, either. So without feeling or language, what is left? DADA is left. That is why it is so misunderstood, why it is so easy to write about and so hard to practice and why its trajectory led straight into post-modern literature while other avant-gardes of the day were still experimenting and struggling with the modern. The Dadaist revolution was incomplete and there is still a project there that we can engage with as artists and writers moving through this postmodern world.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Performing the Unperformable

Reading the first Chapter of Craig Dworkin’s No Medium, about the blank page and how many artists and writers have published and displayed blank pages of varying length, width, dimensions, and what each of them means and now I am wondering if there is a performance piece in here.


What would a refusal to paint and to write signify in capitalism, in the time of war, in a time of oppression? It doesn’t have to be an apolitical gesture. It could be an extremely political gesture. Which political gesture, though, do I want to make?

I am thinking, as always, about Anne Bogart's statement/assertion that every choice is an act of violence, foreclosing every other choice. Thus, blankness is also a way of avoiding the violence inherent in choices.


I think about Yoko Ono's all-white chess pieces. They are not blank -- are not a blank page or a blank canvas, and yet they are both white like the blank page and the blank canvas, and they do represent a refusal.


Again, and always, I come back to this. What would it mean to not write a paper?

The question of "Can the subaltern speak?" Of course they can. But will they be heard? Understood? Outside of their own context? But can any of us speak and be heard outside of our own communities anymore?

How can that be communicated through this performance? How do you perform refusal – particularly in solo performance? And why am I always trying to write the unwriteable, perform the unperformable? Is this also what this performance is about and why these types of works are so interesting to me? How do you perform ambiguity without telling the audience through programs and statements that this is your point?


This reminds me of the book I was just reading, Love and Math, about very advanced problems in math that are so unsolvable that they are virtually (or actually) theoretical. This performance, these questions, are unperformable, unsolvable, and therefore on the edge of performance theory, technically speaking. Unless someone has already found a way to do this and I am just not aware of it.