Wednesday, September 28, 2005


JH: As one takes what one needs or wants from an author, and outlines an author in a few brushstrokes, be they broad or delicate, one could do the same for a literary movement. Do you think an entire collection of authors routinely get treated as a single author? Why do you think a versatile artist (one who writes in a variety of genres and also paints - D.H. Lawrence is an example) tends to get marginalized or has areas of his/her output marginalized - does it have to do with the same focus that would treat a collection of authors as one, a refusal to treat a single artist as a variety of artists? Why are a group of authors within a self-defined movement often singled (ha ha) out from the rest of that group? Is there a tendency among readers and commentators to reduce all down to a single author (I'm not using "reduce" in a pejorative sense - I originally went for "simplify" but that was similarly loaded -- ah! how about "Is there a tendency among readers and commentators to unload all trappings to find an essential, which is regarded as the individual - a nucleus?"). Is this a product of how humans think (brain construction, rather than social habit), or does it have something to do with a method of reading? So the writer I'd like to riff on is the imaginary author, and aren't they all? Are you feeling imaginary yet? I know I am.

AHB:I feel imaginary, certainly. I think you'd have to be pretty socially busy as a writer not to feel imaginary, and even so you're probably missing the obvious sensation, pumpkins in the closet, perhaps. And tho I feel a calling as a writer--call it a binding commitment—because I'm not such a great reader (of the works of others, I mean) or critic, I feel somewhat out of my depth. That's just a taste of my neurotic side, tho, with which I have my dances. You open a good topic here. I watched the Bob Dylan documentary the last 2 nights on PBS. Dylan presents an extreme case of an artist. His huge popularity magnifies the "role" (oh gawd!) of the artist, as perceived. That is (do you notice that I often make a statement, then restate it in a way that's (I hope) more clear? I'm figgering things out as I go), Dylan was embraced universally (obviously I mean that loosely), as a voice of a generation, or a moral view, or the whole kit and kaboodle. He's just writing songs, but this burden of import, wowzer. Every artist grapples with that, tho few (Picasso, for instance) to such an extent. Excuse me, Allen, they grapple with what? With whatever the hell the artist qua artist is doing, verb transitive, is worth doing, not just for him/herself but for others, strangers, the world... I don't walk around with that headache pressing down, that's Truman Capote In Hollywood kind of shit, but it does mean I wonder about the wobbly mass out there that might read what I write, and that might "take it to heart". Isn't that a funny idea! And yet control sequences exist that plug LANGUAGE (for instance) poets as a corporate entity, so that Silliman = Hejinian = Perelman = Howe = Bernstein = ANYONE who hasn't published in Poetry. The commitment of approaching each writer, and each work of that writer, as a unique voice in the chorus: yes, it's tough, but yes it is imperative (and no, I'm not saying I'm such a great worker in the vineyard myself). An academic sorting process exists as the fierce work of the non-gods, but artists, you and I even, must plod on. Please riff on as you see fit.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


JH: By "aligned with the biographical data" I meant do your figures behave in a manner resembling the biographers' portrayal of them. Rimbaud's project is alchemical, and many texts have detailed this, perhaps extravagantly. Enid Starkie's biography is a good place to start. I have nothing to add to the topic of Rimbaud and alchemy, save with trying to field specific questions. There's some question of how much alchemy a 19 year old can learn - which brings up the question of meditation versus learning. Can focusing intently on a single book or poem or a few books on a common theme (such as alchemy) yield anything? Can't the scholar do the same thing within a torrent of material to study, giving special focus on a limited amount of work while reading a enormous amount of disparate work? What is the difference between concentrating upon a few works within a (relatively) sparsely populated literary environment and concentrating upon a few works within a densely populated literary environment? Are the interpretations and influences that come into play for the less well-fed reader strictly biographical (psychological, environmental) or is there Something Else? When you accidentally add a "d" to "reading" it looks like "re-adding" - what does this mean? I also originally wrote "densely populating literary environment", and it's true that for a certain kind of reader books mate like bunnies.

AHB: Frankly, I don't know if the historical characters (and events) that I use align with the data. I like to think there's an assumption of biographical verity, but I acknowledge I am using these terms to some degree as signposts, or I mean recognizable objects, and I play with that. I read Starkie's bio of Rimbaud long ago, and liked it. Rimbaud exists as an image because he was such an intense artistic example. The greatest poet/gun runner/slaver in the canon, I warrant. He had a frisky precocity that I suppose overwhelmed the conduit, hence the step away from literature. He had a spongy intellect along with a trust in his outpourings that allowed him to produce his hellish vanities. I say vanities without trying to demean. Vanity in the sense of trusting one's vision, as in those who had good trips with acid. One can't guess what a 60 year old Rimbaud might've written but he clearly hadn't the time at 20 to meditate his visions, he was active. I'm kinda riffing here, you touched a nerve. He is an example of focus. Altho Olson delved deeply, he had a wandering intellect, so the scholarship evident in his work was more fragmentary. I mean, he was not a historian, per se, so his interest showed more poet than historian. Which attracted and attracts me. He's a wild man, if not completely the Great Fire Source, but also well-grounded, in his peculiarly way. What was the question again? What writer would you like to riff on at this time?

Saturday, September 24, 2005


JH: I think I get what you mean. I've read some philosophy, not a ton. I've read the Pre-Socratics, Plato, and Nietzsche the most. I consider Poe's Eureka to be philosophy. Philosophers as found in a philosophy textbook have yet to make a big influence on me and my writing. Alchemy to me is another face of literature, I infer a common interest in the Great Work and the perhaps necessarily futile search for a result. The Process as process (or is that vice-versa?). I like the language and narrative of alchemical texts. Astrology is a brilliant invention - looking up at constellations and claiming them analogous to human endeavor. The physical symbols in astrology rather than the language of the texts attract me (unless astrology is mentioned in passing by an author such as Robert Burton). To relate astrology and alchemy to philosophy is beyond my reach, yet a good subject for a book that's probably been written many times over. I am interested in how ancient philosophy combines many disciplines and includes popular beliefs. A lot of the thought in ancient philosophy is so foreign to modern thought (thought as in procedures of the brain) as to provide a reading experience I don't find anyway else, an instance of text removed from neat context. Alchemical writing seems a deliberate imitation of these and related (religious/cult/magic) texts.
Perhaps Alchemical texts and poetry of any time has this in common, ultimately, in that they are reaching towards a magic, a barely-reconstructable ritual / procedure that was once thought essential. Speaking of history, you often use historical figures in your poetry. Do you try to stay aligned with the biographical data of these persons, and if so, to what degree? If, or assuming a mix, when, you use them as markers, could you explain the thinking behind this?

AHB: Yes, “Eureka”'s a terrific piece. Poe's an interesting character, being essentially an autodidact (did poorly in school, as I recall). He likes to throw his homemade erudition at you, especially in his reviews. Which reminds me of Olson, who had a complete education, but took his learning into idiosyncratic, interdisciplinary places. I'm not much influenced by philosophers as philosophers, but as writers. Nietzsche obviously is a wild writer. Hegel is not in that sense, but I find it such a wonder to attempt to pierce the Penetralia with such language. I think you are right about how ancient philosophy combines many disciplines and popular beliefs. My wife Beth got into homeopathics when western medicine could think of nothing better for her autistic son than ritalin and special ed. Homeopathics and nutritional aids, along with physical therapy brought a boy who didn't speak till he was seven fully into 'this world'. Which is not meant as an advertisement for homeopathy but a recognition of potential. As fascinated as I am by Olson, I know he was also a nut. He invited Carl Sauer to join an imagined community of great minds, a utopian vision if ever. Sauer politely declined. The point is, as you write, a “reaching towards a magic, a barely-reconstructable ritual / procedure that was once thought essential.” In the 70s I nicely avoided disco by developing an interest in British and Celtic folk music, 1st thru Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, then into more traditional musics. I think I felt that we should have the magic back. Not that I went druidic (and I need only reference the Stonehenge scene in “This Is Spinal Tap” to recover balance in my view), but I did develop a taste for the border ballads as collected by Child and Sharp. Those are powerful documents, harkening to an age of far less simplicity and more magic. But to mosey back to your questions, if I understand them aright. I'm not sure what you mean by staying aligned with the biographical data. I want to refer to these figures as complexities. I don't want them to be heroic, like baseball players, tho the temptation is strong to pump them up. Olson may have been a Big Fire Source but he could be screwy, like when he scolded Ted Enslin for using a kingfisher in a poem. Olson thought kingfishers were his. By the way, I planted tansy here some years ago because of Olson's mention of it. Little did I realize its rampant vigour. I also planted lupine, in honour of a Monty Python skit...'ve mentioned an interest in surrealism. Sooth to say, I know little of that. I believe you've related surrealism in some degree to alchemy. Philip Lamantia, you've said. Rimbaud strikes me as an alchemical player, whether or not he was up on the texts. Can you comment on this?

Thursday, September 22, 2005


JH: I aspire to be a conduit - I like the classical idea that a poet should try to add to the existing store of literature, however humble the offering, rather than trying to write something completely new. If a poet writes something that seems completely unique, or less familiar to an astonishing degree, then good for that poet (and the store). Yes, I think my poetry is very much a part of my reading - my poems are a reading done with a pencil instead of the eyes. I was very interested in your process for "the Sticky Name is All Bramhall". Do you think that what you saw in your mind (parts of your narratable life) when writing the original biographical note was significantly altered when you read the final (or latest) version of "the Sticky Name is All Bramhall"? Did the new language - and form, the repetition of words - make you see anything in a new light? Do you recall what was the word that became the word "sticky"? "Competent" is another word that crops up in this poem. What was "competent" originally? Has Jane Harrison (an author I often return to) influenced your poetry and/or thought any? How did reading Olson's interests influence your poetry -did you read them in anything resembling a continuous block of time? What kind of phrase is "continuous block"?

AHB: The ur-text (and that's the 2nd time in 24 hours and my life that I've used that term) for Sticky was an autobiographical note that I had to write for school (I am working towards my late in life MA), a straightforward but boring hunk of text. The engine behind using it (aside from sense that any text would do) was impatience with the stricture within which it was written. Dealing with my life as a 3-page piece of writing, trying to 'put across' some 'facts' about me. I wanted to open the boundaries a bit. I like seeing the traces of the original, tho the meaning of sentences differs greatly from what was. 'Viscous' (which transmogrified into 'sticky') replaced 'I'; my 1st order of business was to waylay that personal voice. There's irony if not satire, slight in either case, in using such a text, but that was not my main motive. I have not (yet) read much Harrison (Jane), her name came up as likely territory to study, especially with her connection to Olson (or vice versa). Olson's reading list (not specifically the one he prepared for Ed Dorn, tho that's a useful document) kept me busy for quite a while in an unfocused way, as I found the books and as my current reading interest allowed. Sometimes he confirmed what I knew. For instance, I'd already read Bernard DeVoto when I discovered Olson's note on him. I guess my Olsonian reading has been a discontinuous block. I think the history and science that I read has provided a foundation for my writing, something 'firm' and 'real'. For years, I avoided reading philosophy because the language so often used shies further and further from 'real things'. Do Hegel and Kant ever mention trees? I loved Thoreau and liked Emerson because their writing did include trees. I still enjoy my Concord neighbours (both are buried just down the road from me) but I've learned to like the weird swirling stuff that Hegel and Kant (and other philosophes) write. Do you get what I mean? Does philosophy do anything for you? You've mentioned some interest in alchemy and astrology, can you speak of that as well? Would you relate your interest in alchemy and astrology to philosophy?

Monday, September 19, 2005


JH: Yes to Blake! Yes to prizes sucking, whether loudly or stealthily! The 2004 BAP had some excellent poets - kari edwards, K. Silem Mohammad, Ron Silliman, Brian Kim Stefans, Bruce Andrews, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis to name but a few. A BAP from a few years ago included Rebecca Seiferle. So BAP is not inherently wicked (not in the negative sense). Jamey Dunham's prose poem "Urban Myth" at:


is very good - it didn't need re-writing at all, satiric or otherwise. I read Dunham's "Urban Legend" as using a decades-old expository style, with the "shocks" of the narrative deliberatively not straying too far from this imposed style. But let's talk about your writing. I'd love to hear about your the Sticky Name is All Bramhall.

Tell us about the sticky!

AHB: I was being a bit snitty about BAP. Anthologies tend to be scholastic tools, thus part of the hardening of the arteries that schools often engender. I don't particularly want to meet poets in this way, piecemeal, tho I'm sure good poetry can be found in the various BAPs. Regarding my poem, it was a lark. I muck around with texts quite a bit. It's a weekend thing to do, an activity I view both as experiment and play. Recently, and unusually, I have been using my own texts. In this case, a biographical note I had to write for school. I can't recall exactly what I did. I used find-and-replace to exchange the words 'I' and 'my' with something else, one of which replacements was 'viscous'. I sent the text thru Babelfish, Dutch to English and back, I think. I did a spell check, selecting the more whimsical choices offered. 'Viscous' became 'sticky' in the process. I read the thing word for word, and adjusted things quite a bit, aiming towards some goal or sense that I vaguely established in my mind. I know this all sounds boring and mechanical but the process feels lively to me. I enjoy the pleasure of randomness, tho I don't suppose I'm doing anything actually aleatoric. I like reacting to what I find, and the mining from the mess. I think Kasey Mohammad states in his interview with Tom Beckett that he is content, for now at least, to work with the voices in Google rather than in his head. Much of my writing is voices in my head, so listening to and accepting these outside voices is fresh for me. Your writing often seems to stem from literary involvement, not allusion or reference so much as invested by your reading. Do you feel the connection I infer? Do you feel like a conduit, or that the authors are all in heaven?

Sunday, September 18, 2005


JH: I like this blog - dunno if I will go solo anytime soon. Poe's "Marginalia" is one of my favorite pieces of writings - also his "Fifty Suggestions" and "Pinakidia", genuine brilliant thoughts mixed with plagiarisms of scholarly observations on classic texts. I love reading the marginalia of others, and get to do so often, being a frequent reader of used and library books. My favorite is the phrase "damned idiots" written inside the cover of "As I Lay Dying". Recently, reading a library copy of aphorisms by E.M. Cioran, I saw this penned next to an observation about sex: "Cf. my diary note of 10 years ago." Who refers to one's diary in a public book? And on a topic guaranteed to catch the reader's curiosity? And is this diary a counterpart / rival to the Cioran collection ("All Gall Is Divided")? Did the diary ever exist? What marginalia or graffiti struck you, if any? What are the literary possibilities of such a medium?

AHB: Yes to Poe's “Marginalia”. I like William Blake's marginalia, because he carries on angry debates with the text. His offense is so palpable, I suppose because the words and the issues are for him. I have many used books as well, in which one notes the bored attempts of students to channel whatever blither their teachers are pouring out. To be honest, most of the scribbles by others that I see are of this ilk, as opposed to a more scintillating engagement with the text. I've seen a couple of books in which jeepers 90% of the book is underlined. Which is more like defacement. I've done graffiti projects a couple of times. While reading Clark Coolidge's book, In the Nameways, I started writing a poem per page (in the book). His poems were short riffs, as were mine. There was little if any outright allusion to the Coolidge text, just a flow from the feeling. I did a similar thing with the famous anthology of New York Poets. In this case, I referred to the specific texts a bit more. Jim Behrle is doing this now on his blog, posting scans of his scribbles (which amount to rewritings) of poems in the latest Best American Poetry. There's a satiric motive in his project that weakens his effort (satire wears out) but he produces 'real poems' that have more interest in them than the originals. When I brought up blogs just how, I was thinking of how they rework the sense of outlet: poets taking control of production. I've never looked at an edition of BAP, but I infer that it's a sort of laurel crown for poets in the game. I don't even care if that is an accurate assessment. Does that idea of the prize, success in poetry, suck out loud? Do you think I'm leading the witness?

Friday, September 16, 2005


JH: Yes, Lanny Quarles is always astute, and it's a privilege to be in his gaze. I haven't done any critical writing in a long time - the closest I come these days is backchannel comments. When I did anything approaching critical writing it was in notebooks. I may try someday - as I mentioned earlier, I've idly thought about writing essays. Do you do any critical writing, or have you ever thought about turning to the essay? What are your thoughts on notebooks, when used for critical pensées? I hardly ever use notebooks for this purpose anymore. I would say that blogs have supplanted the notebook, but poets are sneaky and there are probably a lot of such notebooks out in the physical world.

AHB: The only critical writing that I do, leastwise regarding poetry, is on my blog. That writing is absolutely off the top of my head. I regard such writing as an exercise in reading and in bringing my thoughts together. It seems like a worthwhile enterprise, whether public or private, for a writer to enter the lists (I guess that's a pun) in this way. I'm not interested in writing formal essays. I used to use notebooks somewhat, as a way of working with the text, but that happens less often now (perhaps it's more important for the younger writer to do this, I dunno). Moreso, I underline and write airy little comments in the margin. There's a sort of physical tension in doing this, which satisfies perhaps in the same way that touching a sculpture or painting might (I don't mean defacing). I recently got Rodney Koeneke's book Rouge State, which compelled me happily to underline the many neat lines and phrases that jumped out. On the other hand, I couldn't bring myself to do so with the equally invigourating chapbook by Alli Warren, Hounds, a hand-made affair that just didn't want my scribbles on it. I can't recall if I've mentioned a journal project I had for some 5 years. It represented a large proportion of what I wrote at the time, a bloggy sort of reaction to whatever happened to slip over the transom. I love this sort of open formatted writing occasion. Ed Dorn's prose writing, for instance, seen as a single project, or Charles Olson's often screwy concentration bombs, and for that matter his letters. Are you at all interested in writing a blog yourself? I infer a degree of interest. I might add that I didn't think I'd be interested in doing one until I actually started doing it.


JH: There should be a lot more commentary on your work - and will be soon. I've had some, mostly in backchannel, but also in blogs - such as your Tributary and once in Silliman's Blog. It is helpful in giving me another handle for my poetry. I've thought of compiling a guide to web poets: a few-paragraphs summary of the poet and plenty of links to the online work. A blog format would be useful and democratic. There would be a list of poets on the left-hand side. This project is to be very inclusive and constantly updated. Interviews and statements could be included also. Poets could include their page as a link in their ezine bios, which would allow the reader to see more of their work, and discover other poets. Does this sound like a good idea to you? I'm thinking that it could be modeled after Wikipedia, with a public adding entries. The question of ultimate editorship rears its head - who is barred from entry? Is there to be 70,000 poets - a model of the internet within the internet? A database of many of such guides?

AHB: You propose an interesting if enormous undertaking. The Poetics program at Buffalo has made good headway in providing an internet connection, so to speak, to contemporary poets. A Wikipedia-like, more egalitarian compendium would be useful, no doubt. There'd still be some manner of editing, I suppose. And maybe there should be. I would find it hard to write up writers I'm not especially interested in. There's a sea of work online. This compendium would need to be of writers who have work online, obviously. Which leaves certain writers out of the picture. I am disappointed that more bloggers aren't attempting to map out the territory themselves. More reviews of work read, or of readings attended. I would've thought that blogs were exactly made for that sort of thing. Of course, one looks at my blog and sees only a modicum of such, but I don't think I have the critical chops of X, Y, and Z. I take my hacks, tho. Ron Silliman seemingly does as much blogside reviewing as anyone, writing in a fairly formal mode. His is not the only mode (Jack Kimball's densely oblique crit writing, for instance, comes to mind), and bloggers ought to be able to negotiate the possibilities. I hope readers notice Lanny Quarles' comments on this blog, for he digs right into your work in a most satisfying way. That's what I would hope for from online publication. Do you, by the way, do any critical writing, either not for public consumption (notes in a journal, say) or in mags (that I haven't seen)?

Thursday, September 15, 2005


JH: I'm more than happy with my audience. The Wryting list has some of the finest poets around contributing to it, and I contribute to a variety of lists where the readers are very astute. I mention lists before I mention print and electronic journals because I get more comments from list readers than journal readers. If I had a larger audience I couldn't be much more satisfied, as that would only bring in a few more readers who are as well-rounded and perceptive (two words picked out of a gush) as the readers I already have. That being said, do I ever write specifically with readers in mind? Never - consciously, that is. Sometimes I write with my other poems in mind, guiding the lines towards references. The list readership I have allows me to write without worrying if they are going to "get" something, or, conversely, worrying that I don't have enough theoretical and stylish elements. The journal readership allows for that necessary foreign element in writing that will happen sooner or later to every author - what happens, Ovid, when people have to go out of their way to learn your language or rely on translations that, no matter how accomplished, are still translations? Coming to a unfamiliar, and uncongenial, type of poem is a lot like reading a poem in translation. What about your relation to readers, and general thoughts on poem readership?

AHB: I agree that the Wryting list as audience allows me to offer anything without expectation of either offense or huhn????. I like doing things like writing something experimental (that is, experiment with form) or posting several things written in a gust, and knowing that people won't whine that I've overposted or that I'm throwing shit onto the list. The Poetics list went prissy with that sort of attitude, so that it is just an announcement list now. The nature of lists allows for and expects a variety of means whereas journals run by the potentially more limited gauge of their editors. For a number of reasons, I don't send to journals. I am lazy or under-inspired to do so, for one. I don't like trying to parse the editorial imperative. Perhaps most importantly, I dislike seeing a small handful of isolatoes plopped into public view like that. I like a greater sense of the context of my (or anyone's) poems to be seen. I would rather a series of poems than a bunch of recent greatest hits. I wish there were more commentary on my work, in the sense of reviews. I would like to have that vantage on what I do, have done. Have you had much in depth consideration of your work by others, whether publicly or privately? Has it helped?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


JH: I do avoid the immediate in my poetry, whether it be moral, political, personal, or literary. If not the tranquility that Wordsworth counsels us to wait for, then some other remove. Stuff + Time: Poetry. Poetry as history-writing. Just talkin' is OK for me in moderation (ie, two times in my life) - I've related dreams twice before in poemy form. I enjoy reading such seemingly-casual talk/journal poems - Blackburn, O'Hara, Whalen, etc., but rarely do so in my own poetry. How to explain the huge backlog of inspiration waiting to be written down? Why only a few poems (in relation to all that the poet has experienced - even if a poet writes three dozen poems a day, it doesn't begin to match up) for so much experience? There's individual selection, based in part upon ideas of what a poem is, but this hopefully will bring up another facet of the diamond that is World versus Writing.

AHB: I've mentioned my own tactics to avoid direct saying. Robert Grenier is stuck with having declared "I hate speech". Stuck in the sense that it is something people will haul out vis-à-vis himself. The point is useful, since he wants to free poetry from the effects of declaration, but his writing very much works within speech, the quoted, aural, found things that so many of his poems feature. Are you satisfied with your audience? This seems like a presumptuous question unless your name is Ashbery, or really, if it is King or Rowling. And yet there exists an outward that enters the writing process. I've thrown a lot of work to the breezes via internet, so that I can say there's a readership, but the relationship is tenuous at best. Can you speak to the tension that your sense of readership bears upon you? Readership in the palpable sense, as in people with names, rather than the capital R assumption that every writer must make. I may be repeating myself, in fact, I may be repeating myself, but audience seems like an inescapable clause in the sentence of a writer. How much of the dance is willful and how much pressed upon? something that occurred to me as a painter, that sales of your work can finance further work (buy the paints) but I can think of no such correlation with writing.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


JH: The poem is another Virginia poem - let's see, Virginia poem Class B (as it does not feature Virginia as a speaking or reacted-against character). Appius Claudius, whom I fancy to be the person portrayed on the bookmark (actually a cigar box, if you want to know the source of the picture), interacted in history with a Virginia who was the daughter of a centurion named Virginius. Her father stabbed her to save her from being raped by Appius Claudius Crassus, a decemvir (a member of a group of ten judges), which is said to have been the beginning of the end of the office of decemvir. This story occurs many times in poem (example: Virginia, by Thomas Babbington Macaulay) and play (example: Appius and Virginia, by John Webster). The castrato, who sings of Casanova (the anti-castrato), a song that alone reminds the barons why they transformed Sam Whippingcane into a book, either discovers or plants a bookmark depicting a bust Appius Claudius (who is identified as such by the title and the word "Virginia" by the bust). This bust bears much the same relation as a sentient book - it is immobile, only a head, and has its eyes forever fixed on a word or set of words. Perhaps the bookmark is a clue to Sam Whippingcane's transformation - which may be punishment for a transgression, a reward for some service, or a means to prevent his meddling or policing into the affairs of the other barons, etc. The first two lines say all the barons are cheery to some degree, but perhaps it's meant ironically or misleadingly. The features of Sam Whippingcane's face are either the bibliographic descriptions themselves, or the descriptions are meant to provide elements of Sam Whippingcane's face. The books exist in real (non-this-poem) life, but are not, to my knowledge, illustrated by the people I claim as illustrators (who are real-life artists). The books (and illustrators) may contain clues. The entire idea of clues and what's-what is a fiction of the poem - the clues are both based in real life but also must be referenced to a fabricated story, character, and song. The poem is laid out like a telling of a known story, a lecture, complete with a visual aid and a brief apologetic explanation of the visual aid. One could write an entire novel, or series of novels, on the back story of any poem. I will probably never fill in this story - but I do intend to use Whippingcane Sam again, although he probably won't be a book this time - or a baron, or have a castrato. As I was typing this reply, I came close to using the phrase "the moral of all this may be..." but never did. The idea of moral may have come to mind with the story of the historical Appius Claudius (which is also about political change). How about the moral - and political - in poetry? Is it key or tangential? I feel all is just a series of pictures (in whatever medium) and what gets labeled as moral and political is just part of these pictures -- in literature, anyway. What's your view, antic or otherwise?

AHB: Fascinating answer. For me, it is just about imperative not to think things thru so. I would ball things up terribly. When I have repetitive elements (which have included: bears, Walden Pond, Fu Manchu and other juicy pop characters), I mine them on the basis of feeling (vaguely) their worth. Or maybe it is that I show them at all angles. Once again, flight by pant's seat. But your question of the moral and political in poetry: both seem key but they may be tangential. We can start with the idea that everything one does, including writing poetry, derives from a moral and political stance. Your question, I infer, speaks to the conscious movement of the work within these spheres. In that sense, I think these elements are tangential. Samuel Johnson never sounds less useful than when he highlights the finer feelings and morality in literature. In his criticisms, and his Boswell-recorded talk, that is, I've never taken the time with his poetry. I recognize a moral and political stance to my work, a matter of what is happening. Mere outrage, for me, usually doesn't work (too much mere in my rendering). Poetry doesn't talk. Many circumstances occur in life that could lead you to write about them, birth, death, love, injustice. Do you ever write within these occasions, or do you avoid them? If you avoid, how do you filter out the urge? If you don't avoid, how do you keep from just talkin'?

Friday, September 09, 2005


JH: There's nothing more satisfying than "furthermore" - here follows huge paragraphs on the issue of repetition and gratification. Aesthetics - my personal aesthetics are mostly internalized, and my reading on aesthetics has been perfunctory (my perfunctory, not another's). Perfunctory is a satisfying word too, yes? I've read two rungs above perfunctory when it comes to alchemy (whose rungs? what alchemy? -- the alchemy found in books available in this century). I like looking at the pictures (honest). The mysteries of poetry that I shamble after is the use of the line to create other unseen lines - whether as connecting tissue, pictures, etc. The human mind creates narratives based upon the slimmest of offerings - but a poem reader will often refuse to do so with a mere jumble of lines. So how to create a semi-solid narrative that's not too closed off from these invisible, unexpected, and unhoped-for lines is something that's on my mind when writing. This is just one of the mysteries - that I seek to find loopholes for, not really to solve. How about you, mystery-wise?

AHB: Perhaps due to impatience, I get bothered by things unclear. Movies or stories that don't explain outright what happened. What did Billy Joe McCallister throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge?. On the other hand, I like that blurry feeling with writing or any artwork, in which one feels the something. That blurry feeling is exactly what I look for in poetry, that I read at least. There's a poem by Emily Dickinson in which two butterflies disappear in the course of the poem: I like that sense of transition. I agree pretty closely with you sense of narrative not too closed off from the invisible. Which brings me to a specific Jeff Harrison poem called “The Way This Poem's Laid Out, Appius Claudius Has The Last Word”. You posted it to Wrying-L just the other day. I quote it in full:

they had good cheer, those feudal barons
enigmas of (not "to") one another —
cheeriest of all was Whippingcane Sam, that
open book (tho with only two pages exposed),
whose castrato would often belt out "Casanova
was a fortunate man, for such an unusual Orfeo"

the lyrics to "Casanova Was A Fortunate Man"?

pretty much "Casanova was a fortunate man, for
such an unusual Orfeo" sang variously for hours or
minutes on end to the dual pages that is the face
of Whippingcane Sam, who was metamorphosed
into a tome by the other barons (for a cause they
could only recall upon overhearing "Casanova was
a fortunate man, for such an unusual Orfeo"

what are the features of Whippingcane Sam's face?


The Dying Earth (1950)
by Jack Vance
illustrations by Mado Spiegler

The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall (1845)
by George Lippard
with illustrations by Schlechter Duvall

Le Mystère des Cathédrales (1926)
by Fulcanelli
illustrations by Jacques Lacomblez


Mrs. Armytage: or Female Domination (1836)
by Catherine Grace Frances Gore
with illustrations by Debra Taub

The Nine Unknown (1924)
by Talbot Mundy
illustrated by Karol Brown

Heresbachius: Foure Bookes of Husbandrie (1577)
by Barnabe Googe
illustrated by J Karl Bogartte

one morning the castrato, perhaps
a prestidigitator all this time, perhaps
not, pulled a bookmark out of (or from
behind) Whippingcane Sam's ear

what did the bookmark look like?

untold museums and pages
have been searched, but
this miserable approximation

is the best that's been found

* * * * *

the piece is an intersection of narratives, seemingly. I can't say I catch all the allusions, but it bubbles with potential reading. Is it well enough for me to ask what the heck is going on here? I sense, as I often do with your work, that this poem belongs in a series or someway has other poems with which it relates. Does it? The title takes the reader outside the poem, makes the reader an observer (along with you the writer) of the process of its writing. Can you speak about that, and the poem itself? No is, of course, an acceptable answer.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


JH: Here's the note on Samuel Johnson's "Aurora Est Musis Amica" (Dawn is a Friend to the Muses) from The Complete English Poems of Samuel Johnson, ed. J. D. Fleeman (Penguin, 1971):

"The manuscript derives from Charles Congreve, one of Johnson's Lichfield schoolfellows and later a contemporary at Oxford. It is undated, but the slight awkwardness of the Latin suggest a school rather than a college exercise. It was perhaps written in 1725.

Cerusa. This word is printed as Johnson wrote it, but it has no meaning. It may have been a slip for Cerussa (white-lead, used as a cosmetic), which is sometimes rendered 'vermilion', though Johnson did not give it that meaning when he defined 'Ceruse' in the Dictionary simply as 'white-lead'. The word must describe the mouth of Memnon's black stone statue, so that both 'white-painted' and 'vermilion' are not clearly appropriate. It has here been translated as 'dark'. The Yale editors emended to Corusca ("shimmering'), but the emendation is unmetrical, as would be any legitimate derivatives from Gk [here a Greek word appears] 'to herald' or 'to proclaim'. "

I love Love And Fame In New York, a superb book! I may start collecting my directionless inspirations, as a project in itself - perhaps someone could do something with them. I know I'd like to come across such a list. And if I couldn't do anything with the items on the list, I would just add it to my own list. And somewhere there would be a poet (probably me) who winds up with a towering list constructed of many poets' directionless inspirations - which could be made into a conceptual art project, perhaps titled "The Buck Stops Here." I was once obsessive as far as trying to write daily, but not any more. Obsession (in art) is central in creating art, but the peripheral is perhaps more central. Obsession could get in the way of new approaches. Is obsession (literary and otherwise) the instinctual (which is repetitious - the innate and constant knowledge of how to get food, procreate, seek physical safety, etc) verging onto / into the ideational (the idée-fix)? A glitch, perhaps, or an extra mile. Sometimes glitches (and extra miles) are a bonus, sometimes a detriment, sometimes pointless - thus with obsessions. This is a comparison, if obsessions aren't glitches or extra miles. Maybe obsessions are a result of a drive to find a use for something - a personal use, not an objective acknowledgment of an abstract use. For some reason, a stimuli is enlarged to the general minimization (occultation and exclusion were other words I was going to use) of all other occupation. Though a satisfactory use may never be apparent, there's a huge amount of attention, and often process, spent on this stimuli. What do you think of such projects as Mallarmé's The Book. Or the Great Work of the alchemists?

AHB: Bernadette Mayer and Charles Bernstein have lists of poetic projects at the UB Poetics site on line, but those are more academic exercises to free the inner poet, as opposed to the kind of crazy obsessional projects we're talking about. My own project projections are more material in nature. Like getting a new notebook with the intention of filling in some specified manner. Those nifty writing journals available at Barnes and Noble always attract me, tho my main writing is done on computer. I've not quite obsessionally collected things all thru my life with a vague idea that I could do something with them artistically: paper clips, wine labels, parts of cars (found on the ground while I was running). I have in fact thrown much of that stuff away, but that's not saying I won't collect again (hoping my wife doesn't read that). My main obsession simply is to write steadily. I had a a long project a few years ago, over 14 months, to which I added almost daily. If I came near the end of a page, I always forced myself to write further, because the mere piling up seemed to be part of the thing (and if I can add this: it doesn't read that way: I think my decision to push that way worked in this instance). One wants to be dedicated, but not, excuse my French, an asshole about it. I wasn't quite obsessional as a runner when I was young, but there's no question I ran too much at times, hence bursitic inflammation now. Obsession may be a little too stuck on the map, whereas dedication suggests a better sense of the landscape. I don't actually know what Mallarmé's The Book is, tho I can gather a sense from what I do know of Mallarmé. The alchemists are fascinating, altho the idea of arcana spooks me. I also don't expect to have that sort of clear view of the path. I'm a bumbler in the way I go. Do you feel like you have a good view of the (your) path? Also, are there any imperatives when you write? Do you need coffee when you write, or quiet, or Deep Purple playing “Smoke on the Water” extra loud?

JH: "Smoke on the Water" extra loud is a good idea at any time. Quiet is nice, but not too necessary. I don't really have a good idea of my path - seems more of a labyrinth (and not in the cool Borgesian sense). So I'm a bumbler bee as well. Whenever I say "This is the day I'm going to write" and set aside time, and knuckle down, I produce little or nothing. These days, that is. I once would say "I will write two and a half poems today" and do exactly that. But then again, once I couldn't write at all, before I started writing, and who knows what awaits me beyond the next turn of the maze? Do you have any imperatives when you write?

AHB: No imperatives, but a number of likes. I like music as background, but can live without it. As it happens, I have written an awful lot to the tune of “Piper” by Phish. I love that song, it drives a feeling that brings writing for me, but I don't usually fire up the song for that puropose. I used to be more dependent on music when I wrote but I guess I've grown out of that. I like to drink coffee when I write after breakfast or lunch, or wine after dinner, but I do not approach either as necessities. Early on I took the idea of writing within circumstances. At school once, the power failed, and I sat at my typewriter in the dark and wrote (and so the Bramhall legend began...). On the drive from West Virginia to New Jersey that we accomplished last friday, I took the opportunity (Beth drove) to write the entire way. I have a seat of the pants sense of where I'm going as a writer, which I guess consists of my aesthetics (is that a word you can make much use of?). By the way, that Johnson thing above interests me. In the 2 Umberto Eco novels that I've read, there's been a core of mystifying facts that the plot works from. This Johnson mystery seems of that ilk. Furthermore--and is there anything more satisfying than using the word furthermore?--you've indicated an interest in alchemy. Are there mysteries in poetry that you seek to answer or study one way or tother? I don't mean to throw a mystical ball out there--seek in the philosophical sense is a hulking concept—but I'm curious if that could be a carrying energy for you.