Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Smell Last Sunday Reading Series

Hey Angelenos! Get thee to the Smell Reading Series tonight.

Come to the first reading of the year at THE SMELL,
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Reading will begin at 6:30 pm.

5 dollars at the door to support visiting poets.

247 S. Main Street,
Between 2nd and 3rd streets in Downtown, Los Angeles.

Readers will be:

Christine Wertheim
Elizabeth Treadwell
Jennifer Calkins
Stephanie Rioux

Christine Wertheim teaches on the MFA writing program at CalArts. Her recent poetic work has appeared in La Petite Zine, and Séance, (Make Now Press) with new work forthcoming in Five Fingers Review, and in New Messes and noulipo, (both from Make Now). A book of her poemes will be published in January 2007 by Les Figues Press. With Matias Viegener, she organizes an annual two-day conference on contemporary writing at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. “Séance,” in 2004, mixed the sexiest formalists and the most formal sex-writers. “noulipo,” in 2005, included members of the Oulipo, plus many of their English speaking heirs. The 2006 event will center on women’s writing.

Elizabeth Treadwell's fifth book, Cornstarch Figurine, will appear soon from Dusie Press of Switzerland. Her earlier works include Chantry (Chax Press) and LILYFOIL +3 (O Books). Rain Taxi says her work "seems at once medieval in its miniaturized exhuberance and modern in its casual entropies." She's director of Small Press Traffic Literary Arts Center in San Francisco and lives in Oakland with her husband and young daughter.

Jennifer Calkins is a poet, evolutionary biologist and the author of A Story of Witchery (Les Figues Press), a book-length narrative poem which poet Amy Gerstler calls "a strange, brave journey in which normalcy, deformity, violation and wholeness are radically realigned." Calkins' shorter work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies including 4th Street, Into the Teeth of the Wind, Big Bridge, Ken*Again and Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior; her chapbook, Devil Card, was published by Beard of Bees Press. She lives in Seattle with her family, and works in the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington.

Stephanie Rioux graduated from California Institute of the Arts with an MFA in Writing in Spring 2005. Her writings have appeared in the literary journal nocturnes (re)view, are forthcoming in the journal Trepan, and are self-published on the internet at willowbutton.
Stephanie teaches English and writing to middle school kids in Diamond Bar, California, ghostwrites e-books for, and co-curates L.A. Lit with Mathew Timmons. Her main interests currently dwell in poetry, entomology, and embroidery.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I’m struggling to keep up with the various blog posts and listserv commentaries on Flarf distributed throughout the internet; my brain fries each time I open the Lucipo listserv archive to find yet another five-page response to Dan Hoy’s Jacket essay. But I trudge on, mainly because I love literary fisticuffs, the discussion is generally intelligent and well-argued, and the humor is pitched a bit higher than Defamer. Lime Tree had a clarifying post several days ago, further enumerating the various ways in which the word “flarf” is used: “it belongs to the zeitgeist, which will do with it as it wills.” And today Silliman extends Gary Sullivan’s initial definition of Flarf by raising several questions about its perceived siblings (Kenneth Goldsmith, Alan Sondheim, Brian Kim Stephans, et al) though they are not really questions so much as already-apparent qualities: “systematization, the use of computers, games, any sort of gimmickry”; “the anti-aesthetic, the deliberately awful, the troubling”; “appropriation of non-literary materials”; and “the role of acquaintance and friendship” in the creation of the work.

And so the genealogy of Flarf and its analogues continues to be (contentiously) mapped. Whether one wants to take that history class or not is a matter of opinion; people will place David Bromige and Jackson Mac Low into the family tree, or Kathy Acker and Tristan Tzara, or Alan Sondheim and the Baroness Freytag-Loringhoven, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t help us understand why this particular anti-aesthetic (and others like it) is rearing its self-proclaimed “awful” head now, among many different groups across various media, and why so many have such a strong reaction to it (and it is most often a reaction). But I think the Flarfists do themselves a disservice when they theorize their own work. Flarf doesn't need a defense because Flarf is indefensible. More troubling to me is the mention of Jeff Koons as a visual arts equivalent to Flarf. I see the connection, and I’ve thought of Koons (and Takashi Murakami and Gregory Crewdson and Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin) in relation to Flarf before too, but I don’t think it’s exactly right. While Koons is certainly corrosive, cute, and cloying, and though he does appropriate (not non-literary but) non-artistic materials and subjects to create his art, he strikes me as too much the individualist, uninterested in community, and not manic or offensive enough to be an appropriate analogue. Another blogger (I forget who it was, but it was in one of his posts at some point over the past year) compared Flarf to the Royal Art Lodge collective, which I think is equally mistaken. Marcel Dzama, Neil Farber, and the other members of the Royal Art Lodge are just not deliberately awful enough. There’s a sentimentality and romantic earnestness to their work that is missing from Flarf (not to say that Flarf isn’t earnest or sentimental in its own way – but that difference is precisely something that should be explored further). And the Royal Art Lodge – well, they’re just not overwhelmingly corrosive or out-of-control. They’re sweet, but not sickly sweet, and not un-P.C.

Closer to Flarf is the work of the comics/art/video/performance collective Paper Rad. Visually, Paper Rad is truly nauseating. Seeing one of their gallery shows or performances is like eating too much Halloween candy after strolling down to the internet bar to down a hamburger milkshake. They make Jeff Koons look highbrow (which he is, in his way – that is, Koons has what people in grad school call, apparently with a straight face, a “critical apparatus”; I’ve found very little in the way of artists statements from the members of Paper Rad; in fact, expecting Paper Rad to have a statement of purpose would be to miss their point). Paper Rad generally uses day-glo and pastel colors, embarrassing and nostalgic but warped versions of cartoon characters from their 80s childhoods (Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Cabbage Patch and Garbage Pail Kids, My Little Pony, Gumby, Garfield, Bart Simpson, Teddy Ruxpin), outdated computer graphics and fonts, perverted narratives, and offensive, fucked-up photography; they mix it all up in a big witch’s cauldron and put it on the wall, or in a book, or on the computer screen. In their animated video, Gumby: Xmaz World View, Gumby takes his horse Pokey to get a hipster haircut for Christmas, but ends up hallucinating at the Farmers Market after getting high on spray paint while trying to graffiti the F-word on a wall. In I Heart Computers, a half-man/half-woman peacebird prays to its crystals after a notebook’s worth of teenage jargon flashes onscreen. Paper Rad also has somewhat of an engagement with poetry. There’s actually a poetry section in their new book, Paper Rad, B.J. And Da Dogs. One untitled poem reads:

WHATS harder than getting
a snowsuit on a drunk toddler?
What if the toddler was petting
a cat, and you thought the cat
was just part of the toddler

I’m on my 7th wife
What am I doing wrong,
maybe its
the gong.
Or the bed bong

I;m going to be honest
how do you make refried beans,
is it just mashed potatoes?

What is a haiku?
Beginning to see the see-thru

When I think of candy
I think of being young
at a nudist beach, having the
power to ‘freeze’ time
and sample all the candy.

Is dancing like
I wouldn’t know
For I am the one
who dreams of

This is not so extremely awful by itself, but in the context of the book, where page after page is crude n’ colorful – not to mention the page the poem is printed on, which is pink with some sort of old computer font, or in an art gallery, where the sensory experience is immersive and no speck of white space is left on the walls – the candy-coated awfulness is unbearable. (You can read more poems, handwritten even, and in this sense closer to LRSN's work, on their website). The aesthetics of Paper Rad and Flarf may be worth exploring since they seem on first glance so similar (use of computers/games, the aesthetic of awfulness, appropriation of “wrong” materials, and community interaction) – certainly they have quite distinct social histories, most likely even more divergent than Flarf and the “uncreative writing” of Kenny Goldsmith. Lately I’ve had a little devil whispering in one of my ears. He tells me to take the time to write an essay on these trends in the literary and visual arts. But I have an angel at the other ear. He’s singing that old Beatles song, “…whisper words of wisdom, let it be”. Or maybe it’s Bubble Puppy singing, “In the mist of sassafras, many things will come to pass”.

(More concerning Flarf and its discontents from Joyelle McSweeney)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I'm reading tonight at Beta-Level with a group called the Global Village Collective, details below.

Tonight @ Beta-Level, Chinatown, 8pm

Readings by Nico Vassilakis and Amarnath Ravva along with a group reading by the Global Village Collective of “Flag” by Ara Shirinyan from his book Waste the Land forthcoming from Factory School Press.

The Global Village Collective is Harold Abramowitz, Stan Apps, Tova Cooper, Joseph Mosconi, Amarnath Ravva, and Stephanie Rioux.

Amarnath Ravva lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He recently finished his first manuscript, a work of non-fiction called American Canyon, that blends South Indian and Californian history, memoir, poetry, documentary, and compassion. When he is not writing or producing art, he teaches at Glendale Community College. Since 2001 he has served as an advisor for the journal nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts. He has published several poems in Interlope: a Journal of Asian American poetics, nocturnes, The Berkeley Poetry Review and has work forthcoming in the journal Trepan as well as the anthologies Risen from the East: the Poetry of the Non-Western World, and Writing the Lines of our Hands. To learn more about him or his work, visit

Nico Vassilakis lives in Seattle. He is a member of the Subtext Collective and co-founder of the Subtext Reading Series in Seattle. Recently, his “concrete films” have been shown at Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, Encuentro Internacional de Poesía Visual, Sonora y Experimental (Argentina ) & ERRATA AND CONTRADICTION :: 2004 :: Dudley House (Harvard). More of his work can be found in Chain, Talisman, 3rd Bed, Ubu, Bird Dog & The Organ. His chapbook, Species Pieces after Perec, is forthcoming from g-o-n-g press. He is publisher of Sub Rosa Press.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A bit of flarf google-sculpting: busy weekends are like codependents who seek out abusive relationships. And even worse, you're doing it to your fans! Ahhhhh…those filly weekends!

Friday night: managed to score tickets to a sold-out screening of Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma Parts 1 & 2 at UCLA. A densely layered, poorly translated video, but a sweetly immersive experience. Pure chocolate to a Godard-fan. Several narrators speak at once (in French, in English, in French), words flash on the screen in irregular patterns, and every five minutes Godard proclaims “Histoires du Cinema!” in a nice, thick pompous voice. As a friend said, “at some point text becomes texture.” Sayeth film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, "Just as Finnegans Wake, the artwork to which Histoire(s) du cinéma seems most comparable, situates itself at some theoretical stage after the end of the English language as we know it, Godard's magnum opus similarly projects itself into the future in order to ask, 'What was cinema?'” Parts 3 & 4 screened Sunday. Alas, I didn’t make it.

Saturday afternoon: a visit to The Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Wow. I’m surprised more Angelenos aren’t aware of this incredible community resource. Supposedly the largest archive of its kind in the United States, the library has hundreds and hundreds of flatfiles, shelves and file cabinets stuffed with historical pamphlets, newspapers, books, magazines, recordings, videos, ephemera and personal archives documenting the history of social struggles and movements in greater Los Angeles. Everything from the Charlotta A. Bass Collection (papers of the blacklisted editor and publisher of the oldest African American newspaper in LA and the first African American woman to run for Vice-President in the United States – on the Progressive Party ticket) to old IWW recruitment films from the 1930s to an audio recording of Huey P. Newton’s birthday party in 1969. Browse their website and consider donating or stopping by when you’re next in Angeltown.

Saturday night: a quick run by Kordansky Gallery in Chinatown to check out Nicolau Vergueiro’s second solo show, A Thousand Openings.

Nicolau Verguiero, A Thousand Openings

Later Saturday night: ran across town from Chinatown to Venice just in time to catch Jennifer Moxley and Aaron Kunin at Beyond Baroque. Kunin read poems from his book Folding Ruler Star in what sounded to me like a sinister voice, but a friend described it as the voice one might hear on an airport intercom (which is sinister in its own way). It was great to hear Kunin’s poems live, which actually strengthened them in my estimation. The voice in my head was much more timid. The work Moxley presented, in manuscript, was more narrative than I’d heard from her before (one piece was actually a memoir), but the new prose poems, which have lately turned up in journals here and there, may have been responsible for my Fourieran dreams later that night.

Later still Saturday night: out with friends to a dive bar in Atwater Village. Distracted by a girl playing darts. I couldn’t decide if she was a complete stranger or an old friend from college, and didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of saying, “Hey aren’t you…” and being mistaken. Meanwhile, over a few beers, Stan Apps explained how the Fed manages to make the wealthy even wealthier through a convoluted system of borrowing and lending.

Sunday afternoon: The Sunset Chronicles, Part III, in which wooden citizenry dreams of vegetable flight and abandoned movie palaces project the ghost life of marionettes. Or a really good puppet show.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Market Poetics

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a predecessor to Mickey (once Mortimer, until Walt's wife requested a less pompous marque for their mouse) was traded by NBC/Universal to Disney/ESPN for sportscaster Al Michaels. “Yes, the prodigal rabbit has come home,” said John Canemaker, director of Animation Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “I think it’s really kind of poetic in a way, how it all has come around.”

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tonight, 7:30 PM @ Beyond Baroque, Venice, CA

Jennifer Moxley & Aaron Kunin

Native Californian JENNIFER MOXLEY is the author of Often Capital (Flood 2005), The Sense Record and other poems (Edge 2002; Salt 2003), Imagination Verses (Tender Buttons 1996; Salt 2003), and several chapbooks. Her poem “Behind the Orbits” was chosen by Robert Creeley for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2002. She is the poetry editor for The Baffler magazine and a contributing editor of The Poker magazine. Since 1999 she has lived in Maine, where she teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Maine. AARON KUNIN is the author of Folding Ruler Star (Fence Books, 2005), a collection of small poems about shame. He recently moved to California, where he is an assistant professor of negative anthropology at Pomona College.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A tip from pas au-delà led me to The Power of Nightmares, a fascinating three-part BBC documentary by Adam Curtis that traces the twin histories of the neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists from mid-century to the present. Curtis argues that the neo-cons (following Leo Strauss) and the Islamists (following Sayyid Qutb) engage in the fantasy-manufacturing business:

In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life, but now they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us: from nightmares.

They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, a powerful and sinister network with sleeper cells in countries across the world, a threat that needs to be fought by a War on Terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It's a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media. This is a series of films about how and why that fantasy was created, and who it benefits.

At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neoconservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world, and both had a very similar explanation of what caused that failure. These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way that either intended. Together, they created today's nightmare vision of a secret organised evil that threatens the world, a fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. And those with the darkest fears became the most powerful. (From the opening narration to The Power of Nightmares).

The tone is conspiratorial, though I’m damned if I can find a real conspiracy; it all seems true enough. The supposedly daring contention is that al Qaeda is not a coherent organization but rather an idea (meme?) adopted by isolated terrorist groups, and that the threat of terrorism is largely a fantasy. (A portion of the program, which was produced in 2004, points out that despite the constant threat of terrorist attacks in London, no terrorism has yet happened. The London Underground bombings of 2005 undercut this argument just a little, don’t you think?). The only real criticism I have is that the documentary seems to create a narrative out of isolated truths, leaving other important factors by the wayside (for instance, according to Wikipedia, MediaLens accused Curtis of leaving out the narrative of neo-con and Islamist economic self-interest, to which Curtis answered, “Both the neoconservatives and the Islamists have become powerful and influential and I chose to make a series of films that explained the roots of their ideas and how they were taken up, simplified and distorted. You want me to have made a different series [about] a perfectly good and very important subject - but different”).

One other point: Curtis seems to have been influenced quite a bit by the Bay Area underground filmmaker (and “media archaeologist”) Craig Baldwin. Both use found pop-cultural imagery and offbeat soundtracks; but Baldwin, at least in part, means to show how such imagery (old commercials, propaganda films, forgotten musicals and foreign films) serves an ideological master. By creating fake histories out of real historical detritus, Baldwin highlights the constructed nature of historical narrative. This is the basic theme in The Power of Nightmares too, but the footage Curtis uses doesn’t strengthen his argument; the old movies and commercials seem to be there just for the sake of throwing a fun and quirky bone to the viewer. That is, I don’t really see Baldwin's critical distance in the work of Adam Curtis. In The Power of Nightmares a funny and outdated old newsreel is just a funny and outdated old newsreel.

Watch The Power of Nightmares online:

Part I: Baby It's Cold Outside

Part II: The Phantom Victory

Part III: The Shadows in the Cave

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Poet Jen Hofer opened the doors (and backyard gates) of her Cypress Park home Sunday night for the second installment of her Moving Word poetry and film series, co-curated by filmmaker David Gatten and featuring the work of several local luminaries. This must be the largest crowd any up-and-coming (heck, even established) LA writer or filmmaker will ever see. Jen has an invitation list in the hundreds and, unlike most salons, this one welcomes gate-crashers. The notoriously hard-to-park neighborhood was jam-packed with film, poetry and art lovers from far-flung burgs like Valencia and Venice.

Filmmaker Rebecca Baron screened her early experimental short The Idea of North (1995). From the New York Film Festival website: In the guise of chronicling the final months of three polar explorers marooned on an ice floe a century ago, Baron's film investigates the limitations of images and other forms of record as means of knowing the past and the paradoxic interplay of film time, historical time, real time and the fixed moment of the photograph. Marrying matter-of-fact voiceover and allusive sound fragments, evidence and illustration, in Baron's words “meaning is set adrift.”

Andrew Choate read some funny Flarf-esque poetry (though I don’t believe he used Google to create the work) and he also held up hand-made signs with two-word poems written on them. I remember one of them: Ladycat Cadylac.

Museum of Jurassic Technology founder David Wilson screened his structuralist-era masterpiece Dead Reckoning (didn’t catch the year – perhaps 1980?).

Susan Simpson screened a devastating new short, Boll Weevil Days (2005). Simpson, a puppeteer, created all the buildings and puppets in this short film. The plot dramatizes a nuclear or terrorist blast of some sort in Los Angeles, set to old-timey country music such as the Carter Family. If you're in Los Angeles this weekend, don't miss The Sunset Chronicles, Episode Three, a marionette/puppet show put on by The Little Fakers. Susan Simpson is a member of the group. And on the website I just linked to you can find a Quicktime short of the first Sunset Chronicles episode.

Maggie Nelson read from her book Jane: A Murder.

Amar Ravva performed a multimedia memoir (a video played behind him as he read) entitled American Canyon. You can read part of American Canyon online.

And finally, Lee Anne Schmitt and Lee Lynch screened a work-in-progress with live musical accompaniment by Devin McNulty about the last free-roaming buffalo herd in Utah.

I’ll try to post more frequently from here on out, I promise.