Saturday, March 29, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR FRAGMENT VI: Michael Ruby responds

What is YOUR fragment? Poets explain this technique as it appears in their books (see original conversation post HERE for the questions and a response by Lisa Pasold HERE  the second response by Marthe Reed HERE,the third by George Vance HERE The fourth by rob mclennan HERE, the fifth by j/j hastain HERE and today Michael Ruby responds, looking back at his books and notebooks.

Michael Ruby is the author of five full-length poetry books: At an Intersection (Alef, 2002), Window on the City (BlazeVOX, 2006), The Edge of the Underworld (BlazeVOX, 2010), Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010) and American Songbook (UDP, 2013). His trilogy, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill, 2012), includes Fleeting Memories, a UDP web-book with 80 photos. He is also the author of three Dusie chapbooks, The Star-Spangled Banner, Close Your Eyes and Foghorns, and is serving as the editor at Station Hill for Bernadette Mayer’s forthcoming collected early books. A graduate of Harvard College and Brown University’s writing program, he lives in Brooklyn and works as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.

The Fragment--Michael Ruby
     I have always collected poetic fragments and tried to make something out of them, usually without much success, except for such poems as "I Chose to Remember" (1989), where I worked with fragments from a journal written during a three-week visit to Virginia; "Openings" (1991), which used the first lines of failed poems; and "Among the Crepusculars" (1994), a poem built from fragmentary translations of Italian Crepuscular poets, especially the great Guido Gozzano. These three poems appeared in my first book, At an Intersection (2002).

     Two kinds of poetic fragments, titles and first lines, have particularly interested me.  After sporadically collecting them for years, in 1999, I decided to start a notebook called Titles & First Lines, which I leave open on the right side of my desk and write in occasionally.  I am on the fourth volume of the notebooks now, 15 years later.

     In 2003, I used the early notebooks to construct the multivocal long poem "Titles & First Lines," which later appeared in the ezine Mudlark and in my book Compulsive Words (2010).  The poem was heavily influenced by my close friend Sam Truitt's multivocal book Falltime (available in Vertical Elegies, UDP 2008), which I performed with Jon Fried at Sam's book party at Poets & Writers in New York in 2003.  My long poem can be accessed at the following link:  I also made a monovocal recording of the poem in 2008-2009, which is not yet available online.  I hope to expand the poem into a full-length book, using many of the titles and first lines I have collected since 2003 (and all of the "compulsive words" I have collected since 1999). 
     The problem is, where does the book end?  Where does the accretive work end?  At some arbitrary stopping point?  When I finish writing down titles and first lines?  I don't like the sound of that.  I guess it ends with an ellipsis.  To be filled in later, or not.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Looking into The Last VisPo Anthology

When invited to participate in a series of reactions to The Last VisPo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998-2008 edited by Craig Hill and Nico Vassilakis last year, I found myself facing many dilemmas about how I myself define the limits of poetry, of visual art and language art. I realized that, for me, to experience visual poetry as poetry still required the element of readability, an ability to see into and through language. So, while everyone else responded to the anthology, I just journalled various notes and reflections to myself about a few of the particular images that struck me as I went through the anthology. To read the series of reactions to the book by other poets, please see The Volta's The Evening Will Come issue 32 from August 2013 (with responses by Rosaire Appel, Kristin Prevallet, Katie Yates, Sharon Mesmer, Deborah Poe, Kate Greenstreet, Amaranth Borsuk, Crystal Curry, Mary Burger, Melanie Noel, Colleen Lookingbill, Janice Lee, Donna Stonecipher and Jessica Smith). As for what follows, these were a few of my thoughts and reactions, in journal form, for whatever dialogue they might invite--or merely to share in a process of reading/looking that this book evoked:

Page 23: Jim Andrews, from "NIO"
(FYI the photos I am responding to are not the one below but of the image contained in the VisPo Anthology. Image below is of the homepage for the online "NIO" project).

Asemic writing meets fractal imaging. The letter(s) break apart, feather and disperse neon-cobalt blue over black backdrop. A second image, below, more black than blue, like a to see Andrews' NIO prjct
close up edge of the first, a detail, where now the lettrism of it is more visible. These are not to be read, cannot be, but the viewer looks into them as if through to a time of primeval all-speak onetongue. They evoke and penetrate, delicate and fierce. Something to touch? To aspire to? In both of them, a kind of breathing, winding. Yet, I must ask myself, what is the making behind this? A computer program? A fractal? An algorithm? This is the mathematical mystery of science that is poetic in that its nature is unearthing what becomes us. Far from composition in the lyric poetry sense of a time when verse accompanied lyre or metrical patterns memorized thoughtfeelings--and yet this is still a composed form which sings--flutelike, dusklike nightengale calling us into a metaphysical mystery-space, question of emerging or fading into light. The physical body, letter, fades and presses forth from the black plane, the abyss, always there, interminable mortality wishing to swallow language/us/logic whole. Image 2 is the echo, the reverberation visualized at the left of the form, both emerging and fading out while from above a set of lines enter like rays, light into being/belief, as if we could place our hand below it, become illuminated by this blue light of language. 

Page 24: Oded Ezer, "The Message"

Oded Ezer, photo by Idan Gil
Alphabetic symbols or is this Hebrew rising from the page-like landscape over which, as from a mountain, we gaze, falling back into it? The upright letters bend towards each other in occasional pairs like figures speaking. The letter-words appear to be entering the visual plane (page) from right to left--also like Hebrew, Arabic or Japanese. The letters are peeling up off the page, one by one, casting pale grey shadows behind them. Letter-bodies the light catches on, solid a s a being, born now into the world--written, read, spoken, rising: And here, the message arrives: Unreadable. Forceful. Inevitable.

Page 34: Satu Kaikkonen, "Paper Flowers"

Sculptural space: typelettered pages on thick-grained paper, cut, formed to petals, to rounding-opening outward from the abyss at its center (apex). Can one read you, dear flower? Your dark yawning maw less pestil than portal, escape hatch--threat of deep space and silence. Cycling out from there, wider and wider, the curves of pages turn. Close-up image enclosing viewers. I perceive "John" but then other, closer thus larger words I see are mirror-image printed backwards, to be--or not--decoded. A snippet of island? sav? us? Fractalesque bouquet sentences, inorganic flora. Species, genres, as of yet unnamed but stretching, reaching, yawning with its wide-open, desperate maw, for name, speech. So much here depends on the photo. The skillful play of pale grey light and deeper shadow, making me think this could almost be the arial view of some massive concrete-language construction. Radial. Layered. Escher-esque cascades of curving stairwells which rise and fall, rotate, swallow and consume vocabularies.

Page 35: Fernando Aguiar, "Calligraphy"

Thin scotch-tape ribbon helix of alphabet delicately bridges fringertip and thumb--from one hand to another, speech-connection. Blue sky universe above this speech-rope suspended bridge of vocables twisting towards and away from language. A whisper. A shout. A series of gestures--is it breezy and windy where the A, O, I, Es turn and catch and thump against L and M and R? Something is rolling off the tongue. Who is speaker? Who listens? Here is linguistic flight, breathed-out, breathed-in lettrism. Asemic poetry evokes the fragility of speech, of connection, of comprehension. Langue on the brink of making and unmaking. Dance. (See Aguiar's blog HERE)

Page 57: Spencer Selby, "Jahbend-3"

Acrylic? Oil? I spot / deciper "gh  night /  ate pi a tin (?)  / out  /  its in oil  /  fes / th / sen e/ her / ctc." where a "here" could be "here" or "there", even "where", and "ctc" could be "etc" could be "ate", just as "patio" evokes for me the French "partir". On the canvas-surface, an abstract expressionist-style painting rooted in the primal colors (red, blue and yellow) with white and black balancing out, cutting over or through like water or line. Yellow is mostly applied in dried pigment form, or has been scraped hard as if over rough stone or grit. Did yellow come after, cascading in from the right edge--smears of mustard, of flora? The reds are horizontal dashes with softened edges falling down the rocky surface. Behind both a kind of rugged-rock surface, waves and protrusions of color, shape and shadow have come to absorb the printed language, picking at it, seeping the black ink away. Eroding / erosion of language. A kind of painterly landscape erases language. The image wins, eye over I in creation. This composition succeeds in its evocative-ness. The longer I stare at it, the more I focus on the milky white which spills through the bottom half of the canvas like part of a letterish body looped over or laying languidly across the surface. The words, too, are like
Jahbend-3, from Spencer Selby's BLOG
bodies falling down this painting--dispersing/emerging over the paint-surfaces perhaps like a poorly-reprinted overhead projector page of faded typeface laid atop the painting before the two superimposed images are photographed to make what's seen here, now. 

          Again, what moves is away from semantic meaning, not yet relegated to a series of independent letters yet not a sentence with grammar and syntax. Not an enigma or puzzle to decode, as all the pieces are simply not provided. The surface asks, instead, for me to look, observe: "in oil / sense"? The "..." to (or not) be filled in by the viewer. As Donato Mancini writes on page 65 of the essay section of the Anthology: "To read as if to observe. To watch the poem move over the surface, skitter, skate, slide, slip away." Here, yes, we have entered "into visual linguism" where "color (is) evocative surface, depth." (65, Donato Mancini) where, as Mancini continues, writing is being reinterpreted or defined by the editors and practitioners of this anthology as "mark-making, the capacity of one substance to affect the surface of another." (66, Mancini). Here, the substances of paint ink, canvas, paper, photo, reproduction, viewer, reader are entirely altered by that of the others. Do we read? Watch? What is the difference between the work here defined as poetry and that defined as painting, for example, that of Jasper Johns? Would Johns have called himself a visual poet? Yes, I bend, Spencer Selby, and marvelling at your fabulous image wonder at the significance of definining and limiting genres and practices of reading/viewing--my own and yours as well. 

Overall Book questions: 
a closure to my ramblings, or an opener awaiting dialogue...
In the end, as I read the essays and looked at the images enclosed within the covers of The Last Vispo Anthology, I found myself asking myself such questions as: What here, if anything, is to be articulated into sound? Re-pieced into legible/readable word/fragment/sentence/text?  Does language, grasped at, become a commodity that cannot be reached, where something to seize on (connection, communication, music of being, linguisticall-evoked image) illudes? Has language become liquid spilling away? What is my own relationship to reading, viewing, sound and image? To making and the "real" the pursuit of the "real"?

Being a visual poet, I also thought, based on the definitions provided by the images collected in this book, evokes new questions for the "writer", questions once relegated to the category of visual artist, such as: what medium do you work in? What sorts of tools do you use to make your compositions? Do you work in oil, acrylic, collage, color or black and white, on paper or canvas or computer imaging programs? Do you use Photoshop, In-Design, a lightroom, or...? Do you have a background in graphic design, sculpture, photography? What is your relationship to the materiality of your work? 

To respond perhaps to some of these questions I was left with, I would have liked, as part of this book, small notes by the authors regarding technique and process on or next to the image pages. Such notes could perhaps even include reasons for defining the work as visual poetry. As such, the comments on medium/technique and on definition might marry practices which one finds in poetry anthologies and those far more like what one sees in Art History books or art anthologies. A desire for such intellectual-critical framework to allow me to feel more deeply involved in the dialogue around the making of visual and typographical poetry is not new.  (And by intellectual-critical framework I mean more than essays, which I was pleased to see were included in The Last Vispo Anthology and which I did find a strong notable point to this anthology, despite their being set off from the images themselves in essay-sections. Also, most of the essays were not by the included authors/artists). But on the not-newness of this wish for a more inclusive critical-intellectual framework within an anthology of visual poetry, I admit I have desired to see this in other such anthologies. One can take for example two parallel books in French-- the recent collection "Calligrammes & compagnie, etcetera: Des futuristes à nos jours: une exposition de papeier" (éditions Al Dante, 2010: click HERE to order/read more on the book) with a preface by Jean-François Bory and postface by Isabelle Maunet-Salliet. Like The Last Vispo Anthology, this Al Dante collection only included the images and the authors of the images on the
pages with images themselves, making for a fabulous flipbook-especially given its smaller size. Al Dante did add an appendix but this provided only minimal information which focused on the origin (place and publication) of each image/author. The other such book that I have spent time with of late is Typoésie by Jérôme Peignot (imprimerie nationale éditions 1993, reprinted in 2005--see an article on this book by Sébastien Hayez HERE and a 1997 interview with the author, Jérôme Peignot HERE). Typoésie does a far better job (though is out of date and focused on a more limited scope of visual poetry than Hill and Vassilakis' book). This book includes small paragraph pre-presentations or parallels for each set of typoetry included, some from the original appearances of the anthologized works. It also includes a group of pages by single authors or visual-art-writing groups as oposed to one sole image like we see in Calligrammes et compagnie and The Last Vispo Anthology. The anthology Typoésie as a whole does not, however, extend beyond typographical explorations into the paint, sculptural, photographic and other mediums explored in The Last Vispo Anthology. As such, I await the next Vispo edition, hoping perhaps for such additions or even addendums at the end to allow reader-viewer-critics like myself to engage more personally with each of the included pieces and their creators as I struggle to come to terms with who I am as a reader-viewer of such work, but also as an author-creator of poetry, perhaps visual, but perhaps not so much in the end.

Pages 98-99 of Typoésie, photo by Sébastien Hayez, used with his permission, I invite you to see his article on this book including a series of photos

Saturday, March 22, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR FRAGMENT V: j/j hastain responds

j/j hastain, fragment from "Identity Collage"
What is YOUR fragment? Poets explain this technique as it appears in their books (see the original questions below here). Responses 1-4 have been supplied by: Lisa Pasold HERE  then Marthe Reed HERE the third by George Vance HERE and the fourth by rob mclennan HERE. Today, j/j hastain responds below.

Original questions: 
I (JKD) think of the use of FRAGMENTS in poetry as falling into a few different categories, such as these three:
          1) fragment as ABSENCE: as something which remains when something has been taken away (into which one might put the practice of erasures, but also that of work retrieved but only in part),
          2) fragment as bits of SOMETHING BROKEN-- language spaced over a or many pages opening up the white of the page to various ends, fracutred narratives and identities, ruptured languages
          3) fragment as ELLIPSIS--making a place for the unsayable, the white page to act as a unit of (unspoken) speech, including in this case a densification of the pause or caesura.

What is YOUR fragment?
Can you take a moment to reflect on this question and also to suggest books which, for you, fall into the category of books you like and/or wrote which for you use "the fragment". Where did your use of fragments emerge from (a particular tradition, reading someone or many people, or realization about space on the page, for example?) AND what do you think the fragment contributes to your work in particular? Feel free to list books you have written which you consider good examples of poetic fragment in use.

j/j hastain RESPONDS

 j/j hastain is the inventor of The Mystical Sentence Projects and is author of several cross-genre books including the trans-genre book libertine monk (Scrambler Press), The Non-Novels (forthcoming, Spuyten Duyvil) and The Xyr Trilogy: a Metaphysical Romance of Experimental Realisms. j/j’s writing has most recently appeared in Caketrain, Trickhouse, The Collagist, Housefire, Bombay Gin, Aufgabe and Tarpaulin Sky

On Fragments by j/j hastain:

Is the fragment a snag? A meta–yet-mighty hook by which something inherited tears, widens, matures? Or is it the reaching through the fabric from the other side of it to pull that extra pooling of thread made by the snag, back into some semblance of place within the fabric at large?

I came to lyrical experience with language by way of the fragment, so to perceive of it as something secondary to traditional grammar or regularities in language does not work for me. The fragment is a whole thing that is in fact responsible for my getting in here, in the lyrical investment and collaborative dance with language in which I currently find such joy, somatic stabilizing, sensuous reach and synthesis.

A young tomboy etches phrases into the dirt. They stand tall, shirtless in summer dusk and perform this etching by intuition. They generate output from intuition while singing little, dribbling rogue songs to their own shadow and they do not write in complete sentences. The phrases that need be written are already here: some kind of alerting, some mirroring message long extant in a mysterious between now making itself manifest to my body by my attuning with it. The magics that are just outside of view can be viewed if I let them. Fragments are whole bridges in which I can learn to let. The reverberative results of that letting are sumptuous sense. Fragments are enigmatic yet whole bridges for somatic discrepancies, dysphorias and dysphonias.

A full quilt keeps a body warm at night. The triple swatch of the patchwork quilt (which covered me as a child) being held so fiercely in my hand, being kept with devotion in my pocket like an ancient friend, keeps more than just my body warm here and now.

PS:  Upon request for a poem to close the above posting, jj emailed me two Jpgs, the one at the top of the post above right and then the complete image below, adding: 
       "The first one is the fragment--the second one is the fragment involved in some sort of stitched (patchwork) aggregate. These are collage/paint/sketch thingies I make in an ongoing project called "Identity Collage"-- I could also articulate this in language..."

j/j hastain, from "Identity Collage"

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Compte Rendu de Traduire: Trasmettre ou Trahir et INVITATION à notre SOIREE pour le lancement du livre le 11 mars 2014

Stephanie Schwerter et moi-même sommes ravies de vous annoncer la publication d'une recension par Claire Placial de notre ouvrage Traduire: Transmettre ou Trahir? Réflexions sur la traduction en sciences humaines sur le site Lectures

Nous voudrions aussi vous inviter à venir en discuter à notre soirée de lancement - débat + table ronde autour du livre qui aura lieu le 11 mars 2014 à 19h à Paris au Comptoir des presses, 86 Claude Bernard, Paris 75005. J'y serai, avec Stephanie Schwerter et Jean-René Ladmiral. La soirée sera animé par Yan-Mai Tran-Gervat de Paris III (voir les informations complètes en bas de cette page) Pour procurer un exemplaire du livre: aller ICI

En amuse-bouche, nous vous conseillons également la lecture de l'annonce de notre soirée fait par le sociologue et Professeur Roland Pfefferkorn de l'Université de Strasbourg, Faculté des Sciences Sociales. Dans son texte paru dans le quotidien Echo (le 20 février 2014), il évoque le problématique du temps qui peuvent se passer entre la parution d'un ouvrage important (surtout d'un ouvrage scientifique ou philosophique) dans sa langue maternelle et la publication des traductions (et des traductions de qualité) qui paraitront par la suite dans d'autres langues à travers le monde.

et TABLE RONDE le 11 MARS 2014 à 19h
Le Comptoir des presses, 86 rue Claude Bernard, 75005 Paris

En paraphrasant Umbero Eco se pourrait-il que la langue du monde soit la traduction?  Peut-être. Mais le passage d’une langue à une autre n’est pas un acte technique mais relève de la compréhension de la société où les mots une fois accueillis doivent véhiculer du sens et de la pensée, et pas uniquement communiquer du contenu.

Le Comptoir des presses : 

86, rue Claude Bernard, 

Paris 75005. 

Téléphone : 01 47 07 83 27

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR FRAGMENT IV: rob mclennan responds

What is YOUR fragment? Poets explain this technique as it appears in their books (see original conversation post HERE for the questions and a response by Lisa Pasold HERE  the second response by Marthe Reed HERE and the third by George Vance HERE. Today, rob mclennan responds:

BlazeVox, 2012 by Rob Mclennan
rob mclennan: Born in Ottawa where he resides to this day, Canadian rob mclennan is the author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include Grief Notes (BlazeVox, 2012), notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the forthcoming poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (, as well as curating the weekly “Tuesday poem” on the dusie blog He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

THE FRAGMENT--rob mclennan
My compositional interest in the poetic fragment most likely emerged during my twenties, my initial decade of serious writing, from my initial interested in a particular form of the Canadian long poem. I was quickly and deeply influenced by the procedural open-form, promoted and furthered by Black Mountain poetics, Canadian west coast/TISH poetics, Toronto’s avant-garde/Coach House poetics and all that followed. Taking stock, and marking each particular step; pulling back to see less of the larger picture and focus on smaller, more immediate concerns, and my poetry manuscripts over the past two decades have engaged with the temporal and geographic immediate, as well as an attention to the flow and the shape of the language itself. Days emerge, and the poems happen, as do the individual days, the individual events. One ties almost directly into the other.

I spent years caught up in works by contemporary Canadian poets who worked in longer forms, themselves influenced by poets including the Berkeley Renaissance poets Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, and I devoured works by Canadian poets such as George Bowering, Robert Kroetsch, bpNichol, Barry McKinnon, Daphne Marlatt and so many, many others. Having become very aware of the book as my unit of composition (and even moving occasionally to the multiple-book project), I’ve now published more than two dozen trade poetry books composed as single units, each working a variety of structures to make up an entire whole, whether a collision of shorter poem-sections, a collection of accumulated shorter self-contained poems, or a work made up of one or two longer pieces. Over the years, I’ve been intrigued at the different approaches a single self-contained work of poetry can manifest, from the collage to the accumulation to the seemingly-random assortment.

The idea of the fragment, whatever that might mean to any individual writer, allows the space for the reader to fill in the blanks and perhaps piece together their own particular narrative or through-line. Any poem has to allow space for the reader to make their own connections, but the writer must be capable enough to provide the direction (or directions). Since my initial reading, I’ve been increasingly influenced by other poets working their own variations on the fragment, whether Fanny Howe’s poetic of the ever-expanding single project (a variant on what I saw in the work of Robert Kroetsch), the ongoing accumulations of Rachael Blau DuPlessis (a variant on what I saw in bpNichol’s The Martyrology), the structure of the tightly-crafted “collection” of shorter poems by Sarah Manguso, Lisa Robertson, Sarah Mangold and Kathleen Fraser, or the self-contained essay-style projects of fragment-poems by Cole Swensen and Anne Carson.

The fragment allows for the distractions of easy narrative and straightforward patterns to be abandoned for the sake of the collage or even collision of lines, phrases, stanzas and even poems to shape into something that couldn’t easily be explained, but somehow manages to exist and make perfect sense. The fragment allows for impossible patterns and mixtures that shouldn’t work, and shouldn’t even be, something the “poem” should always be striving for. One should ask exactly what a poem shouldn’t be doing, and then do exactly that.

Although my current poetry project, “World’s End,” is still very much in its beginning stages, it slowly engages through the same series of transitions and distractions that hinders its progress, from our house-purchase and move to the Alta Vista area, to the birth of my second child, Rose. One of the sections, “The Rose Concordance,” perhaps the only work I’ve really done since Rose was born in November, 2013, is constructed out of a series of stand-alone seemingly random phrases. The inattention to work and the impossibility of any longer attention span that Rose presents is something I’m attempting to capture in this fragment-collage work. Art must progress, or die on the page, and if the way in which a work is created becomes different, then one hopes that the work itself can’t help but also be different. And, given I’m remaining home with her once Christine goes back to work after her year of maternity leave, I can expect the next few years to be a series of work-related upheavals, after more than twenty years of full-time writing. If all I can compose at the moment is the occasional stand-alone line, then I will work from that perspective. I mean, if William Carlos Williams wrote short poems due to quick moments amid his work as a doctor, sketched out on prescription pads, perhaps the fragment might just become the only structure that makes any sense. Scraps of paper fill my desk in a way my pre-Rose life never did, and perhaps she might just force my attention to pinpoint, and allow me to create something far more striking than I ever could before.

Wednesday’s child is full of whoa

Sleep, a bitter fiction

Babe agape, snores slightly

One writes like a storm,         intermittent—

u((n)in)t(e)rr((u)pte)d )s(l))ee)p