LI: Are you content to leave it there, “whatever poetry means”?
RL: No. In the same comment, Ashbery also calls my novel “prose poetry.” In effect, the book is both “like poetry” and poetry. And perhaps this is what poetry is: something that is like the thing that it is.
LI: Can you explain how poetry can be “like” what it is? In other words, what would it mean for Rachel Levitsky to be “like” Rachel Levitsky?
RL: It would mean that Rachel precedes and exceeds herself. I have a theory that poets love being amateurs. Most like to read from new work at readings; they’ll give their published book a few minutes then read from a black portfolio or notebooks or some crumpled thing. They read unfinished things most energetically, excitedly.
“Neither an anthology or nor a collection of essays … “
Balloon by Collective Actions, June 15th, 1977
(JOURNEYS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE VOLUME 1)
"Pieces of colored calico were sewn to form an envelope for the balloon (4 meters in diameter). Later in the forest, out in the rain, we inflated toy balloons and stuffed the big one with them. The whole process took 6 hours. After the balloon was finished, we put inside it a ringing alarm clock and let the whole haystack-shaped thing to drift down the river Klyazma."
A special issue of Triple Canopy on publishing (and poetry) after conceptual art.
ECSTATIC PROSE, part 2 (see also previous)
Renata Adler’s Speedboat advertises itself as a novel, but that’s absurd. This is a prose of modern life (published in bicentennial 1976) so deadpan, clicking, and at times toneless as to be nearly grotesque; but because it’s reportorial prose one can’t quite say it’s grotesque. Accurate is in fact the word. One might also say, hard, harsh. Lyric, and yet: lacking in sentimentality.
Speedboat has some of the hang-ups of New Journalism: some of the same striving after simplicity, a mode of actuality, the immediacy of direct speech. It also has a kind of misanthropic drive that reminds me of Charles Baudelaire of all writers of occasional prose, a kind of unreformed disappointment with the human species that here takes refuge in the well-turned anecdote rather than a negative aesthetics. I mention this partially because I found myself surprised to be reading something so skillfully written that was yet so totally irrelevant to me in many of its preoccupations (Art, boats of the very rich, bureaucracy, ennui, journalists, precocious college students, tennis lessons), and also so very good. It’s a gorgeous book.
It’s actually funny to think of the 19th century in this context. One of the first questions you have to ask yourself about Speedboat, after you have given up on finding the plot, is where the fiction is. Many, many vignettes about the life of a woman closely resembling Renata Adler, a writer and journalist, have been packed together. A first-person narrator shyly appears from time to time. Urbane, oddball topics like “the slowest-talking man I know” are combined with dispatches from the Civil Rights Movement and Greek and Caribbean vacations among stylish acquaintances. It’s as if daily life is emerging as a topic worthy to be written about, again, for the first time. Here daily life is not a matter of style or even a mode of consumption; daily life is a rhetorical strategy, and, according to the narrator of Speedboat, you really live only if you are at all times astutely managing your own relationship to discourse:
"What is the point. That is what must be borne in mind. Sometimes the point is really who wants what. Sometimes the point is what is right or kind. Sometimes the point is a momentum, a fact, a quality, a voice, an intimation, a thing said or unsaid. Sometimes it’s who’s at fault, or what will happen if you do not move at once. The point changes and goes out. You cannot be forever watching for the point, or you lose the simplest thing: being a major character in your own life. But if you are, for any length of time, custodian of the point—in art, in court, in politics, in lives, in rooms—it turns out there are rear-guard actions everywhere. To see a thing clearly, and when your vision of it dims, or when it goes to someone else, if you have a gentle nature, keep your silence, that is lovely. Otherwise, now and then, a small foray is worthwhile. Just so that being always, complacently, thoroughly wrong does not become the safest position of them all. The point has never quite been entrusted to me."
In a way, it’s sobering news. And this is such an odd sentence: “To see a thing clearly, and when your vision of it dims, or when it goes to someone else, if you have a gentle nature, keep your silence, that is lovely.” Grammatically it’s odd, but also the sentiment. The sentiment is odd for the author of such adamantine prose (I use Dickinson’s adjective not unintentionally.)
The Crystal Lithium, by James Schuyler. Poems first published by Random House in 1970; this is the 1972 edition, with cover art by Fairfield Porter.
How do I actually do web-based email?
JOAN JONAS, in an amazing interview in BOMB with Karin Schneider:
KS It has been said that Melancholia is related to a sense of doubt. Maybe that is the reason I connect your work with both the center and the periphery. It is always on the stage of waiting to be defined.
JJ I see myself as a bit primitive in the way that I approach things, not as a classical artist. That’s why I was at first interested in the beginnings of cultures, in early Greek art, but not the classical period, in the early Renaissance, and in early Chinese culture. In the video The Big Mirror at Location One, I’m drawing in relation to a prose poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Descent of Winter 1928”:
It was a big mirror. First he painted in a river coming in over from the door and curving down greenywhite nearly the whole length of it and very wide to fall in a falls into the edge of another river that ran all along the bottom all the way across, only a little of the water to be seen.
Did you hear it? I’m drawing a picture of his description of the painting on the big mirror. It’s a way of drawing in relation to something else, to make a picture of what you’re hearing as you’re listening to it. Do you remember the chalk drawing on the canvas?
KS Yes. That’s the piece with the sounds that I adore.