Tuesday, May 28, 2013

PASSIONATE POLITICAL COLLABORATION: A review of Jennifer Karmin's '4000 words 4000 Dead & Revolutionary Optimisim...'

It was one of those emails from one of those fantastically creative friends that just came along on the right day to get a response--a word. A single word. One to be added to so many others. Then addressed, arranged, painted with, reflected on. A word as mark, as tombstone, as flag, as spark of life. Jennifer Karmin's invitation to check out her show and then send her 1-10 words, as she explains below, to hand out to pedestrians, paint, install in her art commemorative project, was one of those things I just participated in, off-handedly, to see what syllables came to mind as I looked at her art project online and thought on her topic.

As Jennifer KARMIN explains the origins of her new chapbook:
"In April 2008, I began collecting 4000 words as a memorial to the 4000 dead American soldier who had been killed in Iraq.  Submissions came from friends, students, writers, activists, soldiers, and those who read about the project online.  I asked each person to send me 1-10 words, gave parts of the poem away to pedestrians during public performances across the country, and painted the words using the American flag as a writing utensil in two installations."

Now those lists have again taken new form, been redialogued, in a chapbook free to read online in  4000 Words 4000 Dead & Revolutionary Optimism / An American Elegy: 2006-2012 at:  http://www.jillmagi.net/sites/default/files/Jennifer%20Karmin%204000%20Words%204000%20Dead%20chapbook_0.pdf

IN this kind of political My Life-esque booklet the lists come and go, numbered, between and around and amid long textual blocks of sometimes words and sometimes whole lines in the first 9.5 pages (if one looks at pdf page 4 as pages 1-2 of a booklet). This  chapbook echos the theme of memory, recollection in word collection, and nostalgia found in Lyn Hejinian's now-iconic collage autobiography My Life. For 4000 Words... opens here, in lower case as if already in the middle of its thought or speech: 
                                      "sad and memory children april quicken burning" 
                                                                                              (Pdf p4, left side, which I call p1)
The accumulation of sound that follows is, on some pages, deafening. A cacophany. A yelling to be heard. 'PEACE' cries one, 'lost youth hope now destruction' murmurs another. But then, halfway through page 10 (pdf p8, right side) there is a horizontal gap, a kind of margin, break, breath. This is followed by the very direct and also moving:

 Here the word gives way to the O at once opening of the mouth, the call to be heard, the call to make heard, the surprise -- O!--and the sigh --O-- as well as the numeric deletion, the zeroing, the erasing, the bodies lined and lined and lined generically over fields in battles--the Os in rows making lines, visible lines, as of meaning, of a story, or a graveyard, or a regiment, a company, a set of troops lined up to head out, to head onto the next page.

There, too, the pages that follow are more dialogic--in a titled poem "Revolutionary Optmism" which opens with questions which are asked of America on page 11 and 13 where the lines go back and forth and are printed in a bold typeface while, on the facing pages (p12 and 14) a set of tercets and couplets wend their way like a river down the page, thinking aloud, in a frail, old-fashioned typeset that recall memos and telegrams. These floating tercets and couplets are all in very different voices--potentially of a torturer ('loosen/this guy/up for us'), an idealist ('tears are wiped away and replaced with peace') as well as politicians, or even a member of clergy at the end, etc. These particular pages recall what Jennifer said about the origins of this project--as she explained: "4000 Words 4000 Dead is a companion piece to Revolutionary Optimism, a response to Abu Ghraib based on confessions from Iraqi prisoners, sympathy cards, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Both texts were published together as a chapbook by Sona Books for Veterans Day 2012 and released online for Memorial Day 2013.  More info here."

But following these 4 dialogic pages, the 00000s return, and on the online pdf the pages recall tombstones or perhaps oddly the image from the old, colorized biblical tales of Mosses with the 3 tablets who, in that film version I recall seeing every Easter waiting for my parents to awake, drops 2 so we all end up with the 10 commandments and not 15. Here, too, there is a little bit of stumbling from some outside source--the photo of the page gives them this aspect of being about to close up, crumble, shake. There is a tremulo as the Os pass from pp 15-16 to where they again trail back into the mix of prose block and word lists on the top of p 17 (Pdf p12, left hand side). Here the O gives way to the incantation of O-m. At once 'Om' of meditation, of joining all to one, but also almost a very American Oh my exclamation or even a partial echo of the many poets who have cried out in their poems "non omnis moriar" (I will not wholly die) where this OM is part of the whole, the entirety of each of us, sewn together in sound-site on these little pages. 

Jennifer then spills from the abstract O-M into the very concrete all-caps HEART which she follows by the organ's more abstract, sentimental forms: HEARTBROKEN HEARTFUL on the same line and one begins to get worried about the sentimental boat one might be falling into, too saccharin, the wholehearted bleeding-heartness of this, and then the text catches itself and adds two more soundplays off of this base beating organ: HEARTLESS HEARTY. Here, Jennifer has moved the reader at once to a counter-emotion (the heartless instead of heartful) but then better yet is the tactile, the weighted, the body and almost perky happy "hearty", with the hefty undertone of voice and body that clearly shift this and embarks the text on a kind of set of counter-listings. 

From this point to the end of the book, Jennifer Karmin continues to deepen the varied explorations on the page that she has set up between the named dialogic poetry pages, the prose blocks, the numeric lists and the OOOOs in rows until the text begins to take on a percussive feeling, repetition, variation, juxtaposition, shift of sound, image, tone, voice, piling and piling and piling atop one another like... perhpas those bodies, those wars, those pasts, those lost reasons, those justifications? The list certainly goes on. Hers? It comes to a halt about 80% down the final page:

Here on the Pdf p15, right side Jennifer Karmin's 4000 words comes to a close on the word "artemesia" but that also drifts, like an ambrosia, into the air, not dotted or held in place by any punctuation, still gaining a list-momentum, it invites the reader to turn back, add on, keep hearing the sounds and reflections. :

And oddly, as she follows the final page of the text with her explainer notes, lists of venues from the shows and performances and also lists--as I will do here--those who, like me, contributed 1-10 words to her, their names, my own, feels also like it is part of the 4000 dead, connected to them in some sort of pre and post-language sounding space. It felt like a homage to creation as much as to loss and war and rebuilding, reading and looking at this chapbook. I hope that you, dear readers, friends, family, strangers, travellers, will also find this chap and project as exciting and worthy of sounding out, sighting, reflecting on, admiring as I have. Thank you, Jennifer Karmin, for making a few syllables into resonant sound.

Jennifer Karmin's list of 

Contributors to 4000 Words 4000 Dead include: Jeff Abell, Emily Abendroth, Harold Abramowitz, Amanda Ackerman, Carrie Olivia Adams, Kelli Russell Agodon, Manan Ahmed, Malaika King Albrecht, Charles Alexander, Will Alexander, mIEKAL aND, Andrew Axel, Carol Willette Bachofner, Ed Baker, Jenni Baker, Anny Ballardini, David Baratier, Barbara Barg, Thomas Barton, Michael Basinski, Robert Bearak, John Bennett, Linda Benninghoff, Cara Benson, Charles Bernstein, Anselm Berrigan, Cameron Bishop, Joe Bly, Jan Boudart, Jessica Bozek, Lee Ann Brown, Laynie Browne, Kate Burrows, Amina Cain, Steve Cain, Teresa Carmody, Christophe Casamassima, Mars Caulton, Han-hua Chang, Maxine Chernoff, David Chirot, Matthew Clifford, Rachel Coburn, Robert Elzy Cogswell, Esteban Colon, Alanda Coon, Stephen Cope, Colleen Coyne, H. V. Cramond, Justin Crontieri, Barbara Crooker, Kathy Cummings, Sima Cunningham, Steve Dalachinsky, Catherine Daly, Tina Darragh, Heather Davis, Joseph DeLappe, Tom DeRoma, Michelle Detorie, Jennifer K. Dick, Joanie DiMartino, Claire Donato, Carol Dorf, Samuel Dorf, John Dowling, Julie Downey, Colleen Doyle, Kath Duffy, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Kate Durbin, Patrick Durgin, Ellen Elder, Susan Eleuterio, Laura Elrick, David Emanuel, Joy Emanuel, Laura Esckelson, Yvonne Estrada, Erik Fabian, Annie Finch, Jennifer Firestone, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Audrey Fitting, Tiffany Florestal, Richard Fox, Libby Frank, Audrey Friedman, Nick Fryer, Gloria Frym, William Fuller, Sasha Geffen, Paddy Gillard-Bentley, Dan Glass, Lara Glenum, Dan Godston, Russ Golata, Elliot Gold, Laura Goldstein, David Gonzales, Philip Good, Arielle Greenberg, Kate Greenstreet, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Gwen Gunn, Therese Halscheid, Duriel Harris, Roberto Harrison, Carla Harryman, Lisa Haufschild, R. Joyce Heon, Larkin Higgins, Elizabeth Hildreth, Jen Hofer, William Honey, J’Sun Howard, Luisa Igloria, Brenda Iijima, Siara Jacobs, Lisa Janssen, Valerie Jean, Judith Johnson, Kent Johnson, Pierre Joris, Bhanu Kapil, Mary Kasimor, John Keene, Pratibha Kelapure, Kit Kennedy, Ali Khan, Helen Kiernan, Matthew Klane, Jacob Knabb, Shareen Knight, Virginia Konchan, Kathy Kubik, Donna Kuhn, Katie Kurtz, Kathleen Larkin, David Lazar, Elizabeth Lazdins, Andre LeMoine, Richard Ledford, J. A. Lee, Janice Lee, Genine Lentine, Ruth Lepson, Andrew Levy, Stephen Lewandowski, Deet Lewis, Robin Rice Lichti, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Malin Lindelow, Jennifer Lizak, Dana Teen Lomax, Carmen Lopez, Bonnie MacAllister, Bill MacKay, Jill Magi, Charlotte Mandel, Douglas Manson, Elizabeth Marino, Mario, Beth Martinelli, Michelle Mashon, Ginny Masullo, Bernadette Mayer, E. J. McAdams, Joyelle McSweeney, Gwyn McVay, Philip Meersman, Daniel Mejia, Miranda Mellis, Mark Melnicove, Nicky Melville, Philip Metres, Erika Mikkalo, Niki Miller, Caroline Morrell, Judd Morrissey, Robin Morrissey, Gregg Murray, Tim Musser, Beverly Nelson, Celeste Neuhaus, Mary Ni, Lynda Perry, Michael Peters, Allan Peterson, Andrew Peterson, Cindy Phiffer, Cecilia Pinto, Vanessa Place, Janna Plant, Deborah Poe, Kristin Prevallet, Paula Rabinowitz, Francis Raven, Monica Raymond, Marthe Reed, Timothy Rey, Margaret Ricketts, Rosalie Riegle, Andrew Rippeon, Christopher Rizzo, Jenny Roberts, Kenyatta Rogers, Anne Marie Rooney, Sarah Rosenthal, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Linda Russo, Becky Sakellariou, Lisa Samuels, Thomas Savage, Davis Schneiderman, Carrie Santulli Schudda, Susan Schultz, Steve Scott, Jeremy Seligson, Dennis Serdel, Anne Shaw, Lindsay Shields, Shu Shubat, Earl Silibar, John Simon, Laura Sims, Beth Snyder, Juliana Spahr, Cassie Sparkman, Donna Spector, Karin Spitfire, Christopher Stackhouse, Chuck Stebelton, Jordan Stempleman, Rachel Storm, Hillary Strobel, Renée Szostek, Stacy Szymaszek, Estelle Tang, Shaunanne Tangney, Gene Tanta, Michelle Taransky, Mark Tardi, Marvin Tate, Catherine Taylor, Michael Thomas, Tony Trigilio, Eric Unger, Nico Vassilakis, Marian Veverka, Matias Viegener, Erin Virgil, Anna Vitale, Gale Walden, Sue Walker, Julene Weave, Josh Weckesser, Natasha White, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, S.L. Wisenberg, Anne Woodworth, Clotilde Wright, Samantha Yams, Andrew Zawacki

Again, see for free the online PDF of this boo 4000 Words 4000 Dead & Revolutionary Optimism / An American Elegy: 2006-2012 at:  https://sites.google.com/site/jillmagi/Home/sona-books

Monday, May 20, 2013

NOTEBOOKS and what we writers do with them...

Me scribbling in Venice, by Doug Stirling
A few months back Samar A Abulhassen sent around a set of questions about notebooks and our relationship to them as authors. I thought I might post my thoughts on them as I feel right now like my current journal and I are close friends, the kind that are irritatingly inseparable and who keep secrets from the rest of the world. It is a curious interaction given that last summer and even most of last year I felt estranged from my journals and notebooks. But a few thoughts I had when Samar asked her questions are below--with hopes that other authors might post comments back about their own use of notebooks and thoughts on journal keeping.

Jen and her Journals / notebooks:
One of the things I tell authors who are stuck is "get a new notebook, one that is a different shape". I thus can say there are notebooks galore chez moi. I have lots of little "unfinished" notebooks--long thin ones to change the shape of the prose poems or poems I was writing at the time, or conveniently small ones for scribbling on the metro, or gigantic ones so I can write randomly and  large--all of which really serve the purpose of getting me going as I finish one project and lean into the next.

But I also have an entirely different relationship to two kinds of notebooks that go through the
Writing at Kate Van Houten's house in Normandy
ages--one is the journal notebooks. These are collaged, painted, scribbled and written in. My one consistency is that I prefer they be unlined, around the same size (6x8.5cm in general) and I have moved away from any sort of spiral though I did have a phase of that years ago. I write in them in many directions. I stick notes in them and glue ticket stubs in them. I generally line the insides of the outer covers with stamps from letters received during the period I was writing in that particular journal. I have notes in French and English from conferences or good books, and bits and pieces of poems or  stories or whatnots. I also have the dulllllllll dulllllll self-depricating "I should be..." to do listing moments and the repetitions that people them, alongside the far more exciting (at least to me) writing of dreams, which I like rereading from time to time. I do at times use them to reflect through something in my poetry. They do however feel stacked along shelves to no decent end. But then again,perhaps that is just what they need to do--wait until I am ready to go pillage them again?

But I also have another sort of notebook--they are really the ones where things happen. Lined in general and A4 size as I need the space, they are where the drafts of most poems really are, and they are in no particular order and sometimes the things pulled out of them get typed up which is already a first revision and other times they just linger there until I toss out the pages.

In the end, notebooks function like sketch pads for me, places to doodle and what emerges may or may not get worked on later. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ruminations while re-reading Anne Carson's Kinds of Water

From May 3rd-May 5th 2013:

Sitting in a café on the French-Swiss-German border reading Anne Carson's Kinds of Water. It has been 23 years since I first read Carson's poetic essay. I've since read every other text by her I could get my hands on and have myself walked over 1080 kilometers to Saint Jacques de Compostelle--not because "Something had to break" (Plainwater, p122) but because something was broken, had broken--or at least cracked--in me at the end of my PhD thesis as I read and re-read Susan Howe, Anne-Marie Albiach and Myung Mi Kim. I'd gone out to see whether going out could fix the rift, I suppose, or just because the question of possible recovery, change, recuperation, rejuvenation, visitation (of / by past or future ghosts?), meditation infused me with the same question she asks at the end of section I, on the eve of the summer solstice (June 20th) as she is about to embark on her own walk: "What is it others know?" (p125) Because, "Pilgrims were people who loved a good riddle." (p125) Pilgrims are. Because, when I first began her essay in the back recesses among the tattered shelves of the used books at the Haymarket Café in Northampton, MA, waiting for a friend, I became a pilgrim. I jumped up out of the sinking old comfy chair at 19 years old because nothing had ever quite electrified me, hurt me, left me wounded and alive quite like Carson's words. I could not contain them, had to shed (share) them right then and there with my friend Alexandra who was still in line for her coffee. I had to shake them off, fling them outwards. I knew so little, then, of myself (the world). But I had unwittingly fallen onto a path (outside myself). I'd begun to travel. I'd opened a door. As I sit here now, in the café, alone--because here one is mostly alone (it is a peculiarity of this city bordering other places, that its betweeness is not as well-rounded or radical as being marginalized, that its aloneness is hollow, like waiting in line, like being part of the line between places, or languages) in the blue bowl between les Vosges and the Black Forest not far from the snowcapped (Swiss) Alps. I look up. Have I stepped out once again? Turned? If this is a road returning, the route of my return, certainly it does follow Carson's own rule for travel: "Don't come back the way you went. Come back a new way."(Plainwater, p123) 


I begin scribbling about Carson, here in the offensively named Café le bon nègre. That's one café name I'll never include in a poem. It is horribly grey out today and I actually feel both pained by and furious at it, as if my anger could spark a bright yellow light somewhere behind the clouds and transform it. I keep feeling I am on the verge. I am eeking out, leaking. It is still early morning so I cannot escape myself, call someone somewhere (in the States?), chat about it. Time differences are made for long-distance consolation. But here, now, I cannot escape myself. A dog barks loudly 8 times. People mill and rush about on errands outside. There is the sound of construction or perhaps just a loud lawnmower someplace wherever a lawn might be hiding. A phone. A tram. An espresso machine. A printout of a receipt and the quick steps of the waitress. I do not know how to be in the world. I lack the tools. How is it that these tools were not automatically given over to me by some member of my well-adjusted family, or my friends? I know they know I do not entirely know how to be (behave properly) in this world. These are the kinds of things no one says to each other. 


Some of us are hardwired into a space between full tension and slack disconnection. I've never been able to find the right formula for maintaining equilibrium. This is a grey day. A grey block. A grey view. A grey mood? A gaze as grey as it is blue. If all of this is about  reading, re-reading Kinds of Water...then? I am afloat. I dive under. I inhale. The depths of the ocean have always terrified me. Often I (we) fear the thing we (I) cannot see. The riptide. The shark. Things that rumble in the night. In the empty dark of my own house I sometimes awaken and think another someone is there. What might they be doing? Reading my books? Trying out my nail polish? Eating my crackers? Watching over me as I sleep? I wait and listen, eyes wide open to the black dark as if I will see a shadow move against shadow. In the night there is the low hum of the walls, the fridge, the building, my body. The subtle, almost indistinguishable vibration, keening.

On the 6:46 TER from Mulhouse to Strasbourg, we pass les Vosges at pre-dusk. Rays of sun and shade stripe down from under a grey cloud. The mountains become layers of lands rippling away from us like waves. I feel the world's a tide approaching, departing. The oncoming night is tender and sorrowful as I read, "What is the fear inside language? No accident of the body can make it stop burning" (Plainwater, p 141). Nothing is burning (here). I am blue or green--a cold color for a cold mood, though in California a wildfire rages closer and closer to L.A. Fires are a summer menace but I have not fully given myself over to spring. Will it snow on the 12th? It snows still, high up, on the mountain peaks nearby. We pause to let out a few passengers in Selestat. A few passengers embark as well. The day is suddenly brighter. It is at its end. The sun's below cloud-cover, exposed, rays of light extending over the stilled factory outlets and truck containers left abandoned near them. And now some red-earth fields awaiting growth, tufts of a few lawns, wildflowers and trees like spring broccoli. I cannot tell whether I am fully awake. A thin finger of neon yellow points overland towards the Germanic towers of a village church. Mustard yellow. Fluff of forest. Another, closer village circles a white church--clapboard--with its traditional, modest spire. The clouds grow darker to the East. The woman passenger in the seat in front of me says "Bene" and "Enthusiaste" and "Certo". The music of Italian makes me want to dance, to make love, to be able to sing libretti, to belt out a perky string of notes from Mozart's The Magic Flute.


A little later. Little time left before arrival. I read, "When is a pilgrim like a letter of the alphabet? When he cries out." (Plainwater, p 143) and think a letter cries out for a word, to be connected, made into meaning. Lexique. Lexical. Semantic. Sense. To be. Being. I think about the nights I have not slept of late, of how, when I do, I often wake myself. Not with words or dreams or snores but a kind of groaning. I can feel myself pressing a kind of moaning sound out of my chest, a subconscious forcing of vibrato. In my sleep, I become a kind of instrument which sounds out the hollows of the sleeping self and seeks resonance. What am I waking for? Or sleeping? Our train pulls into the station and I have to give up on this odd series of automatic writings to hop out, be with others.

Cinco de Mayo. Sun. Woke in an unfamiliar house in a room up under the eaves with no charm except for the quiet and the bright light coming in a little, high-up window. Downstairs a note's been left on the table to help me figure out how to get from this banlieue back to Strasbourg Centre. I take a quick shower then head out but catch the bus in the wrong direction. Out and out into the country we go. At one point the driver hops off the bus, crosses the road halfway--standing in the lane for oncoming cars (there are none)--to meet an older woman, weatherworn face, rugged hands, who unlatches her large garden gate, steps out to greet him, a little potted plant on her palm. She lifts a sprig like a limb, showing him something about the sprouting green, then hands it over quickly as they head back to their places, out of the suddenly oncoming traffic. We drive past lots of colorful little Alsatian houses, gardens in bloom, past a canal opening beyond into fields. Joggers, late morning strollers abound. We pass the kind of half-highrises one sees on the generic edges of cities everywhere, though some have large balconies more fit for a seaside village with a view. At the terminus, Gare de Hoenheim, the parking lot is entirely empty. I catch Tram B back towards town, changing at Homme de Fer opposite Printemps' spectacularly designed decorous windows bulging from the flat walls of different floors like unexpected glass and metallic growths, for Tram D to Gare Centrale. The timing is perfect: I catch my train almost immediately.


There is something about leaving one's home. Once out the door, you can just keep going. The difficulty is in closing the door behind you. Our train pulls into Colmar station. I spotted a red brick spire not far back and the mountains beyond. What kept me from getting off the bus to walk along an unfamiliar canal? Or through that green, inviting field? What keeps me from disembarking right now in Colmar? A stroll awaits. Unknowns. Streets, ruelles, streams, forests. But the difficulty remains. To open and close the door. Leave behind the projects, plans, rules, tasks, objects that people one's life. My sack is too large. My chapter needs to be written. Someone must feed the cat, dog, bird. People are animals who need a nudge. Even the most adventurous among us must find the activating force to dis-inertia. Once in motion, though, the body remains in motion. Perhaps it is this I / she / he / you / they / we fear. "Pilgrims" Carson wrote "were people who figured things out as they walked" (Plainwater, p 129).